Trusted research environments (TREs) play a vital role in enabling researchers to analyse sensitive data – such as health records – for research in the public benefit.
The Five Safes framework is used to protect data confidentiality, including the assurance of ‘Safe Outputs’. In TREs, outputs are typically checked by two expert staff before they are released, which is a significant expense for TRE operators and can cause a bottleneck for researchers.
Meanwhile, the parallel development of TREs and understanding of disclosure risk has created a need to consolidate theory and practice to minimise inconsistent behaviour between different TREs.
Addressing both of these issues, this project seeks to reduce the operating costs of TREs and the time taken to release research results. It will:
- Produce a consolidated framework with a rigorous statistical basis that provides guidance for TREs to agree consistent, standard processes to assist in quality assurance.
- Design and implement a semi-automated system for checks on common research outputs, with increasing levels of support for other types of output, such as AI (artificial intelligence).
- Work with a range of different types of TRE in different sectors (for example, health and socioeconomic data) and organisations (including academia, government and the private sector) to ensure wide applicability.
- Work with members of the public to explore what is needed for public trust that any automation is acting as ‘an extra pair of eyes’– supporting, not supplanting TRE staff and helping them to make easy decisions more rapidly and therefore focus on more complex or nuanced cases.
Principal investigator: Professor Jim Smith, University of the West of England
Project partners: University of the West of England, University of Oxford, University of Edinburgh, University of Dundee, University of Aberdeen, Durham University, Research Data Scotland, Public Health Scotland, NHS Scotland, Health Data Research UK
Funded amount: £514,878