CBDS promotes international knowledge exchange

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
© Sjoerd van der Hucht Fotografie
The Centre for Big Data Statistics (CBDS) was opened by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) in response to two major social developments: the ever-growing demand for real-time and regional statistics (e.g. Urban Data) and the use of new data sources such as Big Data to produce new statistics. Collaboration and exchange of knowledge and expertise with national and international partners is paramount in this respect.


Sofie De Broe is Scientific Director at the CBDS and Head of Methodology at CBS in Heerlen. Both within and outside of the CBS organisation, she advocates the exchange of knowledge and experience by encouraging mobility among the staff. ‘I have always been strongly in favour of this. I promote it within my team, but also at meetings with the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat. Working with a different organisation for a period of time – whether in the Netherlands or outside is an enriching experience and keeps you flexible.’ Already more than 40 national and international organisations are affiliated with the CBDS, ranging from TNO to the World Bank as well as various colleges and universities. Over the past year, visits have taken place between researchers from these organisations and the CBDS.

Innovation process

Statistical offices from various parts of the world have joined the collaborative partner network as well, for example Statistics Norway. CBS methodologist Bart Buelens went there to work on a Big Data research project. ‘The CBDS and Statistics Norway signed a collaboration agreement at the beginning of 2017 citing exchange of staff as one of the objectives. Statistics Norway has already visited the CBDS several times. They have meanwhile embarked on an innovation process and big data research, just like we have. For the latter, they were seeking an experienced methodologist who could analyse data obtained from a Norwegian supermarket chain. This entailed all customer purchases at micro-level across all of Norway; altogether about 120 million records per month.’

Exploratory analysis

According to Buelens, Statistics Norway is looking for an alternative to household budget surveys. ‘This type of survey was last conducted in 2012, but was discontinued due to low response rates and poor quality. Norway is now looking into alternative ways of mapping household expenditure. That is why I conducted an exploratory analysis of data from 1,300 retail outlets of one single supermarket chain. We looked at how much useful information could be obtained from data on bonus card cardholders. But people with bonus cards - especially those aged 40 and up – were found to be a very specific group of consumers who are not representative enough, as they make different purchases from non-cardholders.’ The retail data available from the supermarket chain represent 30 percent of the total market. As for the remaining 70 percent, additional data must be obtained. Statistics Norway has hired a PhD student to do this work starting January 2018.

Concrete projects

Not only Norway is interested in the knowledge and experience which is available in the methodology department and at the CBDS. De Broe: ‘France and Hungary have also shown interest in exchanging knowledge with the CBDS. But our condition is that there is a concrete project with one or more data sources.’ Besides the exchange of researchers among international statistical offices, De Broe also promotes the idea of PhD students and interns both at home and abroad acquiring knowledge and experience at the methodology department and at the CBDS. ‘This is organised by ECHO, a dedicated centre of expertise within CBS where this topic is kept high on the agenda. ECHO provides support in terms of strengthening strategic relations with colleges and universities and accumulating knowledge and experience in the field of data, research, education and innovation.’