As of September 2016, a number of Dutch municipalities have teamed up with Statistics Netherlands (CBS) in CBS Urban Data Centres. These centres bring together data, knowledge and expertise available at CBS and in the municipalities. This combination of strengths offers participating municipalities more insight into local policies and their effects.
Customisation and data
Ruben Dood is Director of Statistical Services and Information at CBS. He and his team run the backoffice of the UDCs. ‘Unlike national government, which is less involved in everyday practice, local government bears mainly executive responsibility. Decisions at the local level often have a direct influence on citizens. Customised research and data play a crucial part in the implementation of local policies.’ This demand for customisation and data at local level is filled by the CBS Urban Data Centres. The collaboration blends knowledge and data available at municipal level with CBS’ knowledge of data infrastructure, data processing, privacy protection and more. Linking and enriching of data bring policy results into sharper focus, enabling local authorities to implement better tuned policies. This could also work at regional level, as municipal partnerships can set up UDCs with CBS as well.
But how does a CBS Urban Data Centre work? Operationally, two CBS experts are seconded to a municipality: an account manager and an operational specialist. They define and carry out projects together with a group of collaborators from the local municipality. The operating method may be different for each individual UDC. As Ruben Dood explains, ‘Our services should fit in seamlessly with the organisation and services of the municipality. For example, some municipalities have a research unit for each policy department while others perform clustered research. We adapt our activities to the specific situation.’
Looking back on the first five months in operation, Ruben Dood says the areas on which the various UDCs are focused so far are fairly similar. ‘We do see differences in approach. Since municipalities have become in charge of youth and health care, they want to have a precise idea of vulnerable groups. They also wish to find out more on topics such as poverty, housing development, traffic and transport, industrial zones and hotels and restaurants in the inner city.’ He cites two examples: ‘Within a month after opening the UDC in Eindhoven, we conducted research on ownership of electric cars to help identify the right locations for charging points. In addition, we took stock of the situation for local hotels and restaurants since the crisis. It was suspected that the city of Eindhoven took longer than other municipalities to recover, and this turned out to be the case.’
Relationship with municipality
One of the great advantages of CBS Urban Data Centres – aside from the independence, quality and reliability of CBS data – is that the national statistical office invests in the relationship, says Ruben Dood. He explains the added value: ‘A closer relationship with a municipality means you are better able to interpret their questions. This leads to improved research, which benefits both sides.’ Another advantage offered to municipalities is CBS’ news supply: ‘As an organisation, CBS publishes news releases very frequently. We can supply local or regional data in addition to our data at national level, to show that municipalities key into national themes.’
Ruben Dood notes a widely demonstrated interest among municipal governments: ‘There is no need for acquisition. As soon as we launched the first UDC in September 2016, the news ran through the country like wildfire. Eindhoven, Heerlen and Groningen have already begun with UDCs. Venlo will be launched in April, and discussions with Zwolle are at an advanced stage. We have started dialogues with several more cities including The Hague, Hilversum and Roermond. The growth in number of UDCs is being phased as each one of them requires meticulous preparation and careful attention. This year, we are looking at eight in total.’