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The Bennett Institute received the Open Science Impact award as part of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Impact Prize, recognising their work on OpenSAFELY. This project addresses three key challenges: conducting research on private health records while maintaining privacy, demonstrating the productivity of trusted research environments, and promoting open collaboration.

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Rose Higgins and I went to an event in London where this Institute was awarded the Open Science Impact award, as part of the MRC Impact Prize.

We were, needless to say, over the moon about it. The whole team celebrated on Slack with a long list of appropriate emojis.

The award is given in recognition of “outstanding contributions to advancing open science in medical research”. It means a lot to us to win it, because of how we built OpenSAFELY to meet three broad challenges:

  1. How could we make it possible to conduct research on millions of private health records, without compromising anyone’s privacy? OpenSAFELY was designed around that problem from the start: rather than moving data (even partly anonymised data) to the researchers, it takes researchers’ questions to the data. The data never gets moved or shared, but research is still possible. It’s open, but it’s safe. We’ve got a video that explains the basics.

  2. How could we demonstrate that a trusted research environment like OpenSAFELY isn’t a blocker to research? Rather, it’s a productive system that facilitates results that are easy to translate into real-world actions. To date, OpenSAFELY has resulted in more than 75 completed papers, done 150 projects, and worked with 20 partner organisations since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.

  3. How could we work in the open, and encourage all our researchers, partners and collaborators to do the same? We designed OpenSAFELY so that all the code is published in the open, and made it possible for anyone to inspect any job that’s running on OpenSAFELY any time they like.

Openness means writing blog posts like this with pictures of prizes sitting on the grass outside our office in Oxford. Being open holds all of us to account, and helps to give the outside world a view inside our work. The more open we are, the better people (both inside and outside the worlds of health and data science) understand what we do. That’s useful when it comes to influencing policy, and hiring new people.

This award is for the whole team, doing a whole team’s work, and the team wouldn’t exist and the work wouldn’t get done without the generous support of our funders, past and present. So, to all of them: thank you.

Thanks also to the MRC Impact Prize team. We took a photo of this award on the grass, but soon it will join our other awards on a specially constructed “awards shelf” in the office. Or perhaps an awards cupboard.

Opinions expressed are those of the author/s and not of the University of Oxford. Readers' comments will be moderated - see our guidelines for further information.

 

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