The role of the SHIP Research Coordinator

Overview of the role

The role of research coordinator is to provide support and advice to both researchers and data custodians in order to facilitate secure access to data for research purposes that are in the public interest.  They will assist users of SHIP to navigate the system, providing guidance on each step, and acting as gatekeeper to training and accreditation services.  They will be responsible for scrutinising data requests for compliance with access requirements, data access arrangements and the facilitation of dissemination of research outputs, all in accordance with SHIP’s optimal information governance standards.  

Key responsibilities

(1) Supporting researchers to make robust data access requests

While the onus will be on researchers themselves to develop robust research proposals and to justify their data needs, research coordinators will nevertheless liaise with researchers to:

  • provide practical advice towards finalising a feasible research proposal and a complete application to allow a timely decision to be made;
  • advise on which datasets can be accessed through SHIP and confirm the availability of the requested data;
  • explain the significance of the likely privacy risk category to which the project proposal will be assigned (see below), including whether use of a safe haven is likely to be required, and how the researcher might adjust their proposal without loss of value to achieve a lower risk categorisation; and
  • verify that the research proposal has the necessary ethics approval (though submitting the research protocol to the relevant ethics committee is the responsibility of the researcher alone and happens outwith the SHIP process, research protocols without ethics approval will not be permitted to progress to the data access requests phase).
  • advise on any training needs or institutional arrangements necessary to comply with the SHIP Good Governance Framework.
(2) Administer SHIP documentation processes

SHIP processes require a number of accreditations and milestones to be verified,  documented and logged on the SHIP project management system.  These include:

  • documentation verifying that participating researchers meet the three criteria for approved researcher status: (i) they are employed by a recognised research institution (ii) if they are not themselves a senior researcher they have the sponsorship of a senior colleague, and (iii) they have completed the SHIP distance learning module on researcher accreditation;
  • signed and approved research protocols; and
  • signed Data Sharing Agreements
(3) Assigning data risk categories

The Research Coordinator is responsible for advising under which of four risk categories an application would be made.

  • Each of these tiered categories will be assigned according to the considerations of the public interest value of the proposal and any likely privacy impacts.  The categorisation made by the Research Coordinator will provide the basis for proportionate scrutiny of the data access request by the Data Controller/PAC.
  • While Research Coordinators will have the experience and knowledge to discern the most likely and appropriate risk category, the Data Controller/PAC will always have the opportunity to allocate a different category where appropriate.
(4) Facilitating secure data access processes

The Research Coordinator is responsible for streamlining the process of making a data access request as far as possible, this will include supporting researchers by:

  • providing them with a single standard format data access request form to be completed once and sent to each data custodian from whom data are sought;
  • checking that researchers have included all the necessary information in their data access request form to permit the research coordinator to recommend the appropriate risk category (as described above) so as to support efficient and robust scrutiny of the application by data custodians; and 
  • supplying up-to-date contact details of the appropriate person within each data custodian organisation to whom data access requests should be submitted.
(5) Ensuring data security

The Research Coordinator will promote the secure transfer of data and research outputs for the duration of the research project by:

  • overseeing the transfers of data from the data custodian to the SHIP safe haven, or where appropriate, directly to the principal investigator;
  • advising researchers who access data through direct transfer, rather than through the SHIP safe haven, on the obligatory security arrangements;
  • overseeing processes for statistical data control and data archiving upon the completion of projects;
  • ensuring that researchers adhere to the conditions of the data sharing agreement in the dissemination of their research results; and
  • encouraging wide dissemination of outputs in the wider public interest.