In conversation with: Hans-Erik G. Aronson, Director of the new DARE UK programme
I was introduced to science as a profession early on, working summers in an analytical chemistry lab at a local mining company in Sweden (and later in clinical radiology) when I was a teenager. I moved to the United States to do undergraduate and post-graduate studies in biochemistry and molecular biophysics and made my way into research computing from there.
I’ve been working in biomedical research computing for 30 years, most recently at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, where I served as Vice President, Information Technology and Chief Information Officer. Before this, I was at Columbia University – initially in experimental structural biology and later at the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics. As HDR UK’s National Digital Research Infrastructure Director, I look forward to bringing these experiences to bear on data research challenges in the UK.
COVID-19 has brought large-scale data and analytics into the mainstream. Near real-time rates of infection, hospitalisation and death are now just a click or a keystroke away for anyone looking. And the information is visualised so that people can understand it. This is a really incredible moment – and it’s driven investment in data research infrastructures. But we must make sure these investments are joined-up, have impact and support research at scale, in a secure and trustworthy manner.
Trust is fundamental to data-driven research, especially when you’re dealing with personal identifiable and sensitive information or connecting data (which can make it sensitive). People need to know that their information is safe from misuse – and researchers need to know that the information they’re using is reliable and appropriately consented. This places a significant burden on researchers and research organisations.
DARE UK is an exciting new multi-phase programme initiated by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) that’s setting out to define the technology and secure spaces for storing, connecting and analysing complex and sensitive data within a novel and innovative UK-wide infrastructure. Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) and Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) are overseeing Phase 1, a community-wide design and dialogue effort, which will inform the programme’s future phases.
What really interests me is emerging technology and how we can use it to do better, faster, more efficient research that benefits people’s lives. This is why DARE UK is so exciting.
“By enabling efficient and ethical research and analysis of complex data, we can generate valuable insights to inform policy at pace and
deliver tangible improvements.”
A new generation of trusted and connected data and analytics research environments would provide researchers and innovators with safer and faster access to large-scale data, advanced analytics and digital tools that might otherwise be out of reach. And by enabling efficient and ethical research and analysis of complex data, we can generate valuable insights to inform policy at pace and deliver tangible improvements.
One of the really exciting things about DARE UK is that it aims to enable ethical and secure research and analysis on a broad range of potentially sensitive data from across the UK research and innovation spectrum – including data from wearable technologies, information from people’s interactions with public services, and much, much more.
I’ve been impressed by the breadth of work that’s going on in the UK. The DARE UK programme will build on these foundations and the existing infrastructure that’s already supporting world-class research.
Right now, I’m listening and learning – which is very much what the first phase of the DARE UK programme is all about. For me, it’s a great opportunity to get to know the data and analytics landscape in the UK, given that I’ve only recently moved here from the US. It’s really important to me to have an open mind: I want to hear from people about their experiences and what they need.
Working together is crucial to harnessing the power of data and technology. DARE UK is bringing together people from different research disciplines and sectors to co-design standards for trusted research environments (TREs) and to gather detailed socio-technical requirements.
And it’s vital that people outside the research and data community are also involved from day one. We have public representatives on both the DARE UK Programme Board and the Scientific and Technical Advisory Group to provide valuable input into decision-making processes. We’ll also be running a UK-wide public dialogue to get to the depth of public views regarding what a trusted and connected national data research infrastructure should look like.
Great research is global. DARE UK is focused on UK-wide infrastructure, but we know that to accelerate discovery, we often need to pool resources and share skills and experience across borders. COVID has shown us the power of international collaboration and this needs to be possible (as well as faster, easier and more secure) in the future of trusted research environments (TREs). This means working locally while also considering compatibility with international standards and keeping an eye on collaborative efforts around the world.