Introduction to The Data Innovation Program for Academic Researchers

1:00 pm to 2:00pm PST

The Government of British Columbia, Ministry of Citizens' Services, in partnership with Population Data BC, recently launched the Data Innovation Program for academic researchers, allowing access to cross-sector data from multiple provincial ministries and organizations for the first time.

The Data Innovation Program (DI Program) is a data integration and analytics program for government analysts and academic researchers. While every BC ministry and broader public sector organization collects and manages its own data, the DI Program securely links and de-identifies cross sector data for a better understanding of BC's complex issues. The Program supports population-level analysis (not individual- or case-level analysis), unlocking the potential for new insights that can lead to better programs and services for British Columbians.

With over 20 years of experience in providing data access to Canadian researchers, PopData is a partner in the DI Program, providing services related to data linkage, project and data management, and a secure virtual research environment.

This webinar will provide an overview of the Program and partnership, outline the data available and the access process.


Brittany DeckerBrittany Decker is the Director of Client Engagement and Service Delivery in the BC Government’s Office of the Chief Information Officer’s Digital Platforms and Data Division. The Digital Platforms and Data Division (DPDD) provides corporate leadership, policy development and key programs and services and that enable government and the public to make informed, evidence-based decisions.

Brittany works with the DataBC and Data Innovation Programs, both of which are focused on the collection, integration, access and analysis of public sector  as well as the implementation of the Province’s open data initiative and Provincial Data Strategy, which Brittany is the co-product owner for.

Kim McGrailKim McGrail is a Professor in the UBC School of Population and Public Health and Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, Director of Research for UBC Health, and Scientific Director of Population Data BC and Health Data Research Network Canada.

Her research interests are quantitative policy evaluation and all aspects of population data science. Kim is Deputy Editor of the International Journal of Population Data Science, the 2009-10 Commonwealth Fund Harkness Associate in Health Care Policy and Practice, 2016 recipient of the Cortlandt JG Mackenzie Prize for Excellence in Teaching, 2017 recipient of a UBC award for Excellence in Clinical or Applied Research, and in 2019-2020 participated as a member of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Task Force on AI4Health.

She holds a PhD in Health Care and Epidemiology from the University of British Columbia, and a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Michigan.


View recorded presentation below.



Questions and Answers from the session

Is the Mental Health data available through the DI Program the same BC Ministry of Health data as is available through PopData?

Yes. Both the DI Program and PopData receive the same Mental Health data set from the BC Ministry of Health.

Can I link DI Program data with data from outside of BC?

The DI Program can bring in and link data from other provinces with the appropriate sharing agreements in place such as inter-provincial agreements for the exchange of information collected jointly and for subsequent tabulation or publication based on that information. However, the project still has to meet the other eligibility criteria of valid statistical purposes, benefit for BC etc.

If you are interested in conducting multijurisdictional research in Canada visit The Health Data Research Network Canada website for information on what might be possible in terms of multijurisdictional research.

The Secure Analytics Environment/Secure Research Environment is at UBC. Does this mean that I have to go to UBC to access and analyze the data?

No. The SAE/SRE is a virtual, not a physical environment, and may be accessed from anywhere within Canada via an encrypted Virtual Private Network (VPN) through a firewall and use of a YubiKey® token for authentication.

What is meant by 'secondary approvals' in the DI Program application process?

Normally, DI Program projects go direct to the Director of Statistics for approval. However, there are certain data sets - Perinatal, ICBC, Pharmanet and Pharmacare - that require pre-approval by those entities before it goes to the Director of Statistics. So, if a project requires any of these datasets, it must get pre-approval first before it goes on to the Director of Statistics for final approval.

Where can we find more in-depth information about the application process for gaining access to data, and about the possibility of linkages across data sets? In many instances, linking data sets from different sources is a key challenge to novel types of research.

You can find information in two places: the PopData BC website ( and the government website (

Regarding linkage, once your application is approved, the data you have requested are provided already linked for you. PopData has over 20 years of experience linking data and, over the last three years, has been linking all the new government data available through the DI Program.

Is the Income by Postcode data aggregated by postcode or it is accessible at individual level with anonymized ID?

Yes, currently the Income by Postal Code data are aggregated. Aggregation also applies to a few other geospatial attributes in DI Program data such as census areas.  A full 6-digit postal code is considered a strong indirect identifier under the DI Program’s de-identification policy therefore it is truncated to forward sortation code.

Please note that postal codes may be truncated, or converted to other meaningful geographies that are not considered to be indirect identifiers. Researchers may request other geospatial attributes such as Health Authority, CSD, school district etc.

Do DI Program projects have to be peer reviewed?

Yes, it is a requirement of the DI Program that project applications contain proof of peer review. Peer review and proof of scientific merit demonstrates that the research is the public interest and is a ‘Safe Project’. This is an important component of the Five Safes model on which the DI Program operates. For more information on the Five Safes, visit: the DI Program website.

Peer review will normally be achieved through the grant application and funding process.

Can someone in the public health sector apply for data that isn’t for a specific research project but would support health policy or evaluation?

As an eligibility requirement, project must demonstrate they have a valid statistical purpose, sound study design and methodology. This is demonstrated by providing the specific research questions, or any sort, hypothesis, methodology etc. Currently the program is only open to government projects (sponsored by a core Ministry) and Academic projects where the researchers are affiliated with a registered Canadian Institution. The program is currently working on expanding access to the broader public sector. If you’d like more information on this, please contact

If I already have a SSHRC Insights Grant, could I show that paperwork to reduce the time it takes to obtain a peer review?

Yes, providing that the project has gone through peer review and that the project you are proposing still matches the proposal that was peer reviewed.

How recent are DI Program data sets?

Most data sets will be a year old. This is because it takes time to close out a data set, complete reconciliations and make it available for ingestion. Look at the metadata for the temporal range of the data set.

For more Frequently Asked Questions about the DI Program for Academic Researchers, visit the DI program website.


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