CBS constantly looking for new data sources

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
© Hollandse Hoogte
The statutory task of Statistics Netherlands (CBS) is to carry out statistical research on account of the government for practice, policy and research purposes and to publish the statistics compiled on the basis of such research. In addition, the CBS is responsible for fostering the provision of statistical information on account of the government. CBS official statistics must meet high standards. The methods applied by the CBS in the collection, processing and publication of data must be transparent, verifiable and comprehensible. Moreover, the data must be reliable and independent, of high quality and available to everyone simultaneously. In order to continue the supply of high-quality statistics in the future and to continue meeting the demand for official statistics by government organisations, CBS is constantly looking for new data sources, technologies and methodological techniques.

Independent work programme

European legislation and the Statistics Netherlands Act ensure that CBS is able to carry out its statutory task of producing official statistics independently. In addition to the production of statistics as specified in the national and European legislation, CBS determines which statistics it produces within the available budget, taking into consideration the general interest of society as well as the needs of government organisations in carrying out their tasks. CBS then establishes the priorities, which are recorded in a multi-annual programme and elaborated in work programmes. The multi-annual programme covers a period of five years. A new programme has recently been adopted and approved for the period 2019-2023. If CBS identifies new needs in the meantime, CBS may adapt its programme accordingly.

Social tasks

A survey among users – particularly government organisations – shows that the need for high-quality statistical information is growing continuously. Social tasks involve a national, regional and local component. The various levels of government are working together increasingly often in order to find the best possible solutions to social tasks. The main concern here is who should take up or carry out which tasks in such a manner that these issues are resolved based on facts. Having access to reliable statistics is crucial in this respect. This means that statistical information is required not just at national, but also at regional and local level.

Regional and local statistics

Local and regional authorities themselves are explicitly requesting greater amounts of relevant statistical information that can support the design, implementation and assessment of their policies. This is related amongst others to central government policy, which is geared towards decentralisation of tasks and authorities; continuing urbanisation; the development of cities into smart cities; and the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals as formulated by the United Nations. This growing attention for regional and local statistics is also seen at European level. CBS has the statutory task of meeting this public demand and thus facilitating proper democratic decision making, policy development and monitoring on the basis of reliable statistical data. CBS always does so in close consultation with the (government) partners concerned, in order to align with the demand as closely as possible and to enhance the applicability of its statistical information. These changing requirements necessitate further development of statistics, both in the methodology and in the data sources that are used. This involves the implementation of an innovation strategy which is focused on collaboration, both in the form of open innovation with public and private parties and in the form of collaboration with end users. For this reason, CBS is even more keenly in search of new alliances, with partners including public authorities, academic knowledge institutions and businesses. Strategic alliances with third parties will result in each party contributing to the other one’s goals and allow the parties involved to improve their strengths. Through this collaboration, CBS creates access to more data, infrastructures and knowledge.

New data sources

Initially, new CBS statistics were produced by interviewing persons and businesses using paper surveys. From the mid-90s, CBS switched – where possible – from sample surveys for the collection of data to the use of administrative sources obtained from other government organisations. The use of such data sources has yielded good results for CBS: major cost savings in the production of statistics, enhanced level of detail of statistics, the rate at which information becomes available has increased and the quality of data as well as statistics has improved. In order to perform its statutory task properly, CBS is always looking for new sources, possible ways of improving its statistics and responding even better to demand from within government and society. While doing so, CBS also collaborates with private companies, for example where private products or services complement CBS’s official statistics. Due to the wide variety of developments taking place in society, in which digital data flows and the internet economy are increasingly important elements, traditional data sources are becoming less and less adequate to serve CBS’ statutory task in the long run. Furthermore, the acquisition of all relevant sources, including information held only by private parties, contributes to a more balanced, independent information provision. For these reasons, CBS strives to constantly find new sources and process these into statistics.

In order to carry out its statutory task, CBS is constantly looking for new data sources

Convert sensor data to statistics

In an age when technology makes it possible to insert a sensor in practically any electronic device, the amount of information from data generated by these sensors is increasing by the day. CBS plans to use this new source more often in the years ahead as well. Several years ago, CBS took a vital step in that direction by making use of scanner data. These are data on the prices and quantities of products sold in shops which are used to compile the Consumer Price Index (CPI). As a result, the quality of the CPI has improved and the number of price observations, which were previously conducted by CBS interviewers, has been reduced by 90 percent. Another example of official CBS statistics which are compiled using sensor data are the traffic intensity statistics. These are based on the total of counts performed each minute of vehicles crossing the more than 20,000 traffic loops on Dutch national roads in the period 2011-2014. Vehicles are registered using methods such as detection loops in roads. CBS reduced the gigantic bulk of data - 80 terabyte - to a workable file and converted it into statistics. CBS is exploring the further possibilities of sensor data for official statistics.

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CBS carries out factual, independent and unbiased research. It does not formulate future projections or policy advice. Its results are published as open data, available to everyone. With regard to privacy and data protection, it meets the highest national and international standards. CBS explicitly seeks collaboration with public authorities, knowledge institutions and the private sector. Would you like to work together with CBS? For further information, please contact: