December 19, 2023

SATRE: Setting standards to improve the efficiency of trusted research environments in the UK

The second issue of our Driver Projects blog series showcases the SATRE Project’s efforts to streamline the standards for setting up and managing trusted research environments to enable cross-functional efficiency. Find out how the project achieved this through consultations with the public and the wider research community.

Standardised Architecture for Trusted Research Environments (SATRE) is one of the five DARE UK Phase 1 Driver Projects funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) following an open call for proposals between October and December 2022. Over a nine-month period, from February to October 2023, the DARE UK Driver Projects investigated the requirements of what will be a UK-wide network of Trusted Research Environments (TREs) in line with the DARE UK vision.

The SATRE project, led by researchers at the University of Dundee, was funded to create a standard framework for TREs – a set of principles and capabilities for establishing and managing TREs to ensure data privacy, security, and streamlined research operations. SATRE’s work essentially sought to settle the long-standing debate on what a TRE is and define the functional specification TREs should possess to ensure consistency and seamless collaboration in a shared network.

Through multiple consultations with members of the public and the wider research community throughout the project, the SATRE team developed and released the first version of a stable TRE specification ready for adoption by the UK TRE community.

Outputs and Achievements

SATRE’s key accomplishments include:

  • An inclusive framework for evaluation: SATRE’s most notable achievement was the creation of an open specification for TREs for the first time. This comprehensive framework, developed through a collaborative effort with the wider research community, encompasses four architectural principles, four pillars, 29 capabilities, and 160 statements. Importantly, 75 mandatory statements now define the baseline for a SATRE-compliant TRE.
  • A long-term vision: The specification is a foundational element for the UK TRE community. It is designed to be used as a basis for ongoing TRE evaluation and serves as a common ground for TRE operators, data controllers, accreditors, researchers, and governmental bodies, enabling a basis for better federation and interoperability among TREs.
  • Providing focus to the TRE community: Through SATRE’s close engagement with the Society of Research Software Engineers’ nascent TRE working group, a large stakeholder community has been built, and the UK TRE Community Group has been established.
  • Public involvement and engagement: Emphasising transparency and inclusivity, the SATRE project team actively involved the public throughout delivery, as well as building on existing work and literature. A blend of methods, including Collaboration Cafés, online sessions, blogs, and public engagement events, ensured that diverse voices contributed to the specification. The result is a TRE architecture that reflects the values and concerns of the wider community.

SATRE’s Public Involvement and Engagement Efforts

SATRE’s public involvement and engagement (PIE) strategy evolved through iterative processes, drawing insights from two previous DARE UK Sprint Exemplar projects (TREEHOOSE and GRAIMatter) and public sessions, discussions, and surveys. The SATRE team integrated feedback on transparency, governance, and public involvement, ensuring that the resulting specification adheres to ethical and public-centric principles.

  • Alignment with public needs: The SATRE project recognised the importance of understanding public perspectives on data management and privacy. Public workshops at the start gauged opinions on what constitutes a trustworthy TRE, which were reflected in follow-up workshops at the end of the project to feedback on changes incorporated in the specification.
  • Diverse public representation: The core team included two public members who represented the lay voice in regular project meetings. To reflect the project’s commitment to inclusivity, SATRE’s public engagement efforts reached across the four UK nations. Participants from different demographics and backgrounds ensured a comprehensive representation of public perspectives.
  • An adaptive communication approach: To bridge the gap between technical complexities and public understanding, SATRE adopted a “default to open” ethos where all activities could be followed live via multiple channels, including a website, GitHub, and Medium, making the project accessible to both technical and non-technical stakeholders.
  • An inclusive content strategy: Throughout the project, thought was given to how to communicate technical elements of SATRE in an engaging and accessible way, with particular input from the two lay members of the project team. The SATRE team developed an engaging infographic midway through the project, and two videos at the end of the project were designed to communicate elements of the project that were of interest to members of the public. These resources helped further break down the complexities of SATRE’s work, ensuring more people can understand the project and get involved.

As SATRE’s innovative strides continue to shape the UK TRE community, the project’s demonstrated synergy between technical advancements and public perspectives heralds a future where data research aligns seamlessly with ethical, transparent, and inclusive practices.

Visit the SATRE Driver Project page to explore the final reports and outputs: SATRE: Standardised Architecture for Trusted Research Environments.


Learn more about the DARE UK Driver Projects