Research Data Scotland: A Digital Transformation Improving Access for Scotland’s Health and Social Wellbeing Researchers

Nexer helped Research Data Scotland (RDS) to renew its data access service. Through user research, co-design, and an iterative development process, we built a website and Researcher Access Service, paving the way for better public health and social wellbeing research in Scotland.

Research Data Scotland (RDS) is a charitable organisation formed through the collaboration of multiple bodies, including the Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland, National Safe Haven, EPCC, National Records Scotland, and various university partners. Their mission is to provide valuable data insights to improve health and social wellbeing in Scotland.

RDS works by providing access to public, social and health related data to researchers, and their website functions as a central hub for these services.  However, fragmented data access processes and outdated forms had hindered the service. RDS appointed Nexer to design and build their new website as part of a wider digital transformation which included the design of a Researcher Access Service (across digital and non-digital touchpoints) and a metadata catalogue which enables researchers to better understand the datasets available to them.


One of the obstacles we had to overcome was the disparate working methods of each founding organisation and the reliance on paper-based processes. Our Discovery phase concentrated on capturing user and stakeholder needs, which would pave the way for transitioning from paper forms to a faster and more transparent digital process, while also understanding what the service should look like in future.

We conducted interviews with service users such as external researchers and business stakeholders to understand their needs and barriers to accessing data. With internal teams, we explored organisational requirements in terms of raising the profile of RDS and helping them with their key objective of transforming the data landscape to facilitate smoother data flow within the system.

Co-designing a new website

The insights from Discovery shaped the design and build of the new website and the Researcher Access Service (RAS). Building on user insights from our research, we worked with RDS team members in a series of co-design sessions to prototype and design the new site and RAS service.

We deployed a multidisciplinary team, including user researchers, service, UX and content designers, developers and testers, alongside members of the RDS team, through an iterative, agile process, testing with service users and feeding insights from inclusive usability testing into later sprints. We also worked closely with RDS content editors to plan, map and migrate content to the new site.

We built the site on the open source CMS, Umbraco v10 and subsequently upgraded to v13, providing greater flexibility for content editors and a platform that was highly secure and subject to long-term support. A critical aspect of the RDS website was the integration with a metadata catalogue, allowing researchers to easily access and understand the datasets available to them. We build the catalogue in Umbraco using custom filtering functionality, which has provided a robust solution that was found to be quick and easy to use in usability testing.

Key Outcomes

  • The new website is flexible, high-performing and based upon a real understanding of user needs. During inclusive usability testing it has been shown to be easy to use, quick for users to find the information they’re looking for, and simple to complete transactions by everyone, including those with access needs.
  • We overhauled the brand guidelines, making them much more flexible and applicable to online usage, introducing guidance on tone of voice, amplifying accessibility content and being more explicit about the use of visual assets.
  • We placed much more emphasis on usability and accessibility across the digital estate, creating user-centred journeys that were usable by everyone. 
  • Working alongside the RDS content team, we re-designed and wrote new information and guidance for researchers, making it easier to find and presenting it in a way that makes it straightforward for users to understand and act upon.
  • We established a clear technology roadmap and target architecture based upon robust, open, scalable, and sustainable technologies, with a flexible support process in place.
  • We made the design and functionality of the metadata catalogue consistent with the rest of the website. We made it easy for anyone in the RDS team to update and change content and front-end elements of the catalogue, replacing a process that relied on external sources and bottlenecks.
  • Subsequently, we conducted a market evaluation and helped to select a new Case Management System, Appian, which we integrated with the website, seamlessly capturing requests and processing them quickly through the integrated platform.

Nexer helped RDS to completely renew their data access service. Through user research, co-design, and an iterative development process, we built a website and Researcher Access Service that is not only efficient and performant but also accessible and easy to understand. The success of this project paves the way for continued innovation in data access and management, ultimately improving public health and social wellbeing research in Scotland.

Research Data Scotland engaged Nexer Digital following a competitive tender process at the end of 2022. They subsequently delivered a complex and varied programme of work including a comprehensive overhaul of RDS’s website (user research, UX/UI, content development, integration with third party web services and implementation of a new content management system), overarching service design and a detailed technology appraisal to consider RDS’s next generation case management options. Since completing the programme, RDS have retained Nexer’s services to enable continuous improvement of our web estate and bolster our multidisciplinary delivery team. It has been a very successful and ongoing partnership. Nexer’s team are not only highly skilled and dedicated but also very much on our wavelength in terms of delivering high-quality, sustainable public services; I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending them.

Hugh Wallace, Chief Information Officer, RDS

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Get in touch

Please email if you would like to discuss our work, or call our Macclesfield office on +44 (0)1625 427718