First Departmental Data Centre launched

24/05/2017 15:43 / Author: Miriam van der Sangen
On 10 May, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs (abbreviated as EZ) launched the ‘CBS/EZ Departmental Data Centre’. It is the first Departmental Data Centre of its kind, operating within central government and linking knowledge available at CBS with a Ministry’s quantitative policy questions. This knowledge is related to data analysis, data processing, data infrastructure and privacy protection. The new data centre is the ultimate place for implementation of both existing and new data sources in response to policy questions at EZ. At the centre, CBS collaborates with various EZ agencies, including: Radiocommunications Agency Netherlands (Agentschap Telecom), the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl), the Dutch State Supervision of Mines (SodM) and DICTU, the central government ICT service provider.

Intensive relationship

CBS and EZ have been partners for decades, and their mutual collaboration has only further intensified in recent years. Cecile Schut, Director Policy Staff at CBS: ‘Over the years, CBS has invested a great deal in its relations with partners including Dutch ministries. The Ministry of Economic Affairs is an excellent example as we work together on a large number of projects. At the Ministry’s request, for instance, we provide all our data on Dutch SMEs to a dedicated information platform: “De staat van het MKB” (Dutch only).’ CBS has already professionalised its substantive cooperation with the EZ Directorate General Enterprise and Innovation. This has led to a project and programme portfolio which closely follows the Ministry’s ever-changing demand for policy information. But CBS and EZ also work closely together in the area of agriculture and nature statistics, for example. Another important and close working partner for CBS is the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis. Over the next few months, closer ties will be developed with other parts of the Ministry as well.

Data Centres for Ministries

Apart from her work as Director Policy Staff, Cecile Schut has also been involved in the establishment of CBS Urban Data Centres. ‘These are close alliances between CBS and Dutch municipalities, in which CBS’ expertise in statistical analysis and data processing is combined with a local government’s ambition to arrive at data-driven policies developed for their city. After all, CBS possesses a wealth of data sources allowing the performance of statistical analyses; combining these with data available at local level can yield many benefits. We would like to introduce a similar construction at central government departments such as EZ. The data centre concept fits well into our existing working relationship. This centre enables CBS to tailor its services even more specifically to the Ministry’s policy issues while also exploring new opportunities together, for example in open data and big data. The Ministry has for instance initiated a big data research project at our Center for Big Data Statistics (CBDS) and their data specialists will then acquire expertise in the area of big data.’

EZ DataMatch

Ramon de Louw is a senior information policy advisor at EZ. In 2016, he was involved in organising the first EZ DataMatch: ‘A number of agencies within EZ were looking to experiment with more innovative and efficient use of data. A wide range of ideas were suggested, out of which three ideas were selected and turned into experiments. In March 2016, we launched EZ DataMatch I, for us to generate ideas which could lead to a more effective use of government databases. One of the results was that CBS linked its agricultural statistics to the subsidy database of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). This produced useful information, also for the policy staff involved. The experiments showed that there is much potential.’ Soon, the first EZ DataMatch had spawned a sequel. Among the topics studied during the second edition was the extent to which fast-growing, innovative companies avail of the ministry’s innovation instruments such as financing schemes and subsidies.

Mobilising forces

According to De Louw, there is a growing need at the Ministry for wider options within a more targeted approach towards using data and data analysis. ‘After all, combining of data and data analysis will lead to new insights that can help enhance our policies or our policy implementation. This explains why we have identified data as the central theme in EZ’s ‘I-strategy’.
We will therefore continue our experiments in the fields of data usage and data analysis as they have been conducted over the past year, but this time we include the activities in our actual work. We are bundling our strengths by collaborating within CBS/EZ Departmental Data Centre.’ De Louw observes a great deal of enthusiasm within the Ministry for this type of collaboration: ‘There is a high level of dynamism within various EZ departments. This was shown in the programme for EZ DataMatch part III on 10 May, where several topical issues were tackled. The DataMatch event encourages EZ employees to form a community in which they share their knowledge and skills while performing data-driven information assignments. For instance, there were workshops on data flows and intelligence in the fishing chain, the future prospects of sustainable energy flows, and the use of data towards responsible innovation; after all, increasing the use of data also means paying closer attention to privacy.’

‘Increasing the use of data also means paying closer attention to privacy’