First Rural Data Centre launched

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
On 12 December 2017, the very first Rural Data Centre (RDC) of the Netherlands was launched in the province of Noord-Brabant. Bergeijk, Bladel, Eersel, Oirschot and Reusel-De Mierden, also known as the Kempen municipalities, are the first five collaborating municipalities in the Netherlands to have joined forces with Statistics Netherlands (CBS) in an RDC. The municipal authorities in each of the Kempen gemeenten and CBS Director General Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi formalised the launch by signing a collaboration agreement at the town hall of Reusel-De Mierden. The aim of this collaboration is to arrive at more data-driven policymaking. For the local community, this means more policy customisation and an improved public service. ‘We are very pleased with CBS taking up this challenge together with us’, says Eersel alderwoman Liesbeth Sjouw.

Collaborating municipalities

Ms. Sjouw’s portfolio includes economy, mobility, finance, recreation, tourism and implementation of new legislation aimed at boosting labour participation (the “Participatiewet”). She talks enthusiastically about the five collaborating municipalities close to the border with Belgium: ‘As part of the Kempen region, since 2003, we have been collaborating intensively in several different areas including IT and social services. It is not always easy but together we can achieve more.’ Project manager Jeroen Weekers: ‘Five municipalities make for quicker, better and more effective policymaking. The issues going on in our municipalities are also similar.’ According to Ms. Sjouw, the Kempen municipalities have much to offer: ‘From tourism to agriculture and housing to manufacturing, you will find it here in the Kempen region. Not to mention our location, close to the city of Eindhoven.’

Data-driven work

What were the main reasons for the Kempen municipalities to establish a Rural Data Centre together with CBS? Sjouw: ‘We had been looking for ways to make more use of data that is already at our disposal. We learned through the media that CBS has been setting up Urban Data Centres in various cities. This made us realise that it could work for our rural municipalities as well. Innovation has been high on the municipal agenda for some time. Setting up a Rural Data Centre was the next logical step.’ Weekers: ‘As of January 2017, our municipalities have adopted a data-driven approach, experimenting with various policy issues. During the first few pilot projects, we discovered that we could benefit from the knowledge, manpower and datasets available at CBS.’ Sjouw points out how rural municipalities face challenges which are totally different from those in the cities. ‘We have issues of our own, such as intensive animal farming’.

Housing and youth assistance

The alderwoman is very positive about the preparations across the five municipalities for the launch of the Rural Data Centre. ‘These went very smoothly. Clearly, we have known each other for a long time, but it was still an incredible job we did there. From an administrative viewpoint, it is quite a task to achieve this but we made it happen! This is also because everyone feels they are fully part of the project. It takes more time, but we managed to complete it in 4-5 months.’ Preparations between the five municipalities and CBS have already resulted in two interesting projects. Weekers: ‘We conducted a survey on housing in which we merged all CBS data on housing within the five Kempen municipalities. This has provided the basis for our vision on housing. We will be adding data from the municipalities and from various institutions, among others Another project we launched together with CBS was on youth crime within our municipalities. Partly as a result of this project, we’ve decided to plan for a new vision on security in the coming years.’

‘We see a growing demand for objective data among municipalities ’

Successful pilot

Tim Muller was involved in the preparations leading up to the establishment of the Kempen Rural Data Centre on behalf of CBS. As a researcher at the CBS Centre for Policy-Related Statistics, he is closely involved in municipal policy issues. ‘We see a growing demand for objective data among municipalities. I make my way into the municipal organisations and discuss things with my counterparts. Together, we try to obtain a clear idea of the policy questions in each municipality, and especially the issues behind these questions.’ Muller’s experience working with the five Kempen municipalities is very positive. ‘This is a unique collaboration. Already before the opening, we worked together in two successful pilots, on housing and on youth crime. This allowed us to demonstrate our added value straightaway.’

Minimum income and social policies

For all parties concerned, the fact that collaboration is taking place with five different municipalities is a point of attention: ‘This means all decision-making goes around to five different parties, and that is not always conducive to a quick turnaround,’ Muller explains. In addition to the two pilot projects, CBS and the Kempen municipalities have also thought about topics to deal with in the coming year. ‘The municipalities are looking to promote the use of minimum income assistance for vulnerable groups in society in order to increase their living standard, which is why our working plan zooms in on their minimum income policies. Another point of attention is the social policy domain. For example, we want to identify the number of benefit recipients and how their numbers are developing. We can then create profiles on the basis of which we can develop new policies.’ How likely is a second or third Rural Data Centre in the future? ‘Likely, as there are more areas in the Netherlands which are similar to the Kempen region. And it needs to be said that rural issues can be widely different from urban issues. Think of the agricultural component, for example, and the organisation of public transport.’