Statistical software R the key focus at CBS conference

/ Author: Jaap van Sandijk
© Hollandse Hoogte
From 12 to 14 September 2018, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) is hosting uRos2018, the sixth international conference on the use of R in official statistics. R is an open-source software specifically developed for the purpose of statistics production and data analysis. A 2-day hackathon will be held before the conference itself, during which users will develop new prototype software for official statistics using R.

Embraced worldwide

CBS has been a user of R since 2010. As an official statistical institute, CBS was one of the first to start using this software in statistical production. CBS methodologist Mark van der Loo explains: ‘We use it all throughout, from the National Accounts to the relatively smaller-scale statistics.’ Van der Loo has followed the development of R for over a decade and he is one of the main driving forces behind the organisation of this conference. He explains why R is being embraced worldwide by so many statisticians, methodologists and data scientists, and what makes R so suitable for official statistics production. ‘Because it is open source software, as NSIs we can easily share the software with one another. As long as you make firm agreements on definitions and methods of measurement, you will also achieve better comparability of figures. In addition, this solution is favourably priced and it offers user support in the form of a global community. The main features of R are that it is expandable, flexible and open.’

‘By organising uRos2018 we are firmly establishing CBS as a high quality knowledge institute’

Travelling conference

Conferences on the use of R in official statistics have been organised annually since 2013 - first locally, then internationally - by Romania’s National Institute of Statistics. As a regular visitor to these conferences, Van der Loo was able to convince the Romanian NSI that it was important for the conference to take place in alternating host countries, to disseminate knowledge of this product across the globe. ‘By rotating the host country, participants and speakers are able to join more networks and to meet face to face. This is how you can let the conference grow.’ Together with CBS colleagues Tine Heijstraten (event manager) and Martin van Sebille (policy support), Van der Loo is working on the conference at CBS in The Hague. ‘We are organising it in consultation with the colleagues from the NSIs in Romania and Austria. Like the Netherlands, Austria was one of the first countries to embrace R.’


Van der Loo is excited about the conference programme, which will include keynote presentations by two R specialists: Alina Matei of the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland) and developer Jeroen Ooms of the University of California in Berkeley. In addition there will be six tutorials and 50 presentations for the expected 80 to 100 participants. This will also be the first time a two-day hackathon is held before the start of the conference. ‘For this hackathon, we are asking users about the things they find have been lacking in R. The challenge is then to come up with and develop a solution for this within two days’ time. The knowledge gained during the hackathon can then be shared at the conference.’

CBS firmly established

To CBS event manager Tine Heijstraten, the international conference is not just any event. ‘The fact that this is the first one held outside Romania is quite a trigger for me,’ she says. ‘It’s very special that the Netherlands is the first to host it.’ Together with her colleagues, Heijstraten created the website for the conference registration. They are also taking care of the social programme and the logistics. What are the requirements for a great conference? ‘The programme should be varied, it should not just be about feeding information but engage the participants, with something for everyone.’ As co-organiser Martin van Sebille points out, this has been taken care of at the R conference in an excellent manner. ‘Just as the internal and external communication afterwards. By organising uRos2018 we are firmly establishing CBS as a high quality knowledge institute.’

For more information or to register for uRos2018: