New access to Government stats

September 17, 2008

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A secure data access centre slated to open this fall in Blusson Hall will give SFU researchers in the social sciences a new way to access sensitive information from national and provincial agencies.

"We’ll be housing within our facility a branch of the regional data centre of Statistics Canada as well as providing researchers access to other sensitive health information," says professor Michael Hayes, associate dean of FHS, who has spent the past five years working on the initiative.

The centre will offer researchers access to both general population statistics and individual-level information, although all data will be stripped of information that would identify specific individuals. Researchers will be able to access confidential data sets from Statistics Canada as well as data collected by various provincial ministries.

Hayes is excited about the potential research outcomes. "We’ll get a better understanding, through linking data sets, of what happens to individual experiences across a range of dimensions," he says. "For example, what’s the relationship between children with pre-existing health problems and their educational attainment?

"We can try to improve health outcomes if we can get a better appreciation of the ways in which health data connects to other experiences in life."

This kind of research facility is available at other universities but will be a first for SFU thanks to state-of-the-art security built into the new building.

Hayes says researchers will only be admitted to the facility after submitting an application with their research questions and receiving approval, including ethics approval.

Once inside the centre, they will have no link to the outside world – no cell phones or laptops are permitted, and no data will leave the facility before it has been sent to appropriate oversight committees to ensure that no privacy or ethics regulations have been compromised.
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