CBS Urban Data Centres: substance and added value

A CBS Urban Data Centre (UDC) is a close, tailor-made partnership between Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and a municipality or region. The aim of a UDC is to broaden, deepen and improve data at local level by combining the knowledge, data and expertise of CBS and a municipality. The result is a factual, data-driven basis for policy and decision-making and potential for savings in the municipal budget through intelligent or smarter use of data.

Data as a basis for policy

A growing number of municipalities want to move to data-driven and “evidence-based” operation. In other words, they want a municipal policy based not on gut feeling but on facts and data.

Many municipalities are therefore willing and obliged to operate increasingly on the basis of data. However, working with data is not the core business of a municipality, whereas it is the core business of CBS. This forms the basis for structural collaboration between municipalities and CBS, with CBS data and expertise being tailored entirely to the needs of a municipality.
A UDC brings together the policy issues of a municipality with the data and expertise of CBS: CBS supports the municipality in gathering, processing and analysing the data required to answer specific policy questions.

Since the organisations’ expertise and operating areas are complementary, the collaboration within a UDC means that 1 + 1 = at least 3. With the aid of a UDC municipalities can develop into smart cities or smart societies driven by data. By drawing on its methodological knowledge, CBS can also ensure that the same approach is adopted across the board, enabling figures to be compared across geographic regions and time periods, both locally and regionally, nationally and internationally.

Detailed data

Answering local policy questions requires local data, preferably at personal level. To this end, CBS can "translate" the national data, including survey and register data, to the regional and local level and, if required, link it to the available municipal data. As an organisation governed by statistical law, CBS is unique in the Netherlands in having over 170 national registers containing a wealth of information. Internationally, CBS leads the way in the use of register information and the anonymised linking of data at personal level. That also enables cross-links to be established between different policy areas. For example, CBS can supply information on small groups (‘children below the age of five in a single-parent family at risk of poverty’), opening up new insights. These insights in turn lead to better, data-driven policy, offering the possibility of creating a "better" city and achieving savings in the municipal budget.
In a UDC it is also possible to seek out new data sources to supplement the existing data. These can include big data sources, such as sensors and mobile telephony data.

Specific design of the partnership

A UDC – usually – has its own recognisable space in a municipal building, where researchers from the municipality and CBS can collaborate. This recognisability is also maintained in the UDC’s communications through the use of a dedicated logo.
Each UDC has a coordinator who operates on behalf of CBS as a contact point for the municipality. If the organisational and financial conditions can be met, CBS also posts its own employees to the site. This generates close interaction and collaboration between CBS and municipal employees which, according to the experience gained in the first UDCs, delivers high added value or additional added value. Before a UDC is launched, the municipality and CBS jointly consider which form of collaboration is most appropriate. For example, in the preparatory phase of a UDC it is possible to organise a data camp or hackathon in which CBS and the municipality can combine their existing data, making the added value of structured collaboration between CBS and the municipality/municipalities visible and tangible for researchers, policy officers, management consultants and possibly also directors. The municipality may also decide to implement a number of concrete joint projects before taking the following steps towards an actual UDC.

Public added value

The data provided by a UDC also gives residents, businesses and visitors more insight into the affairs of their municipality or city. In that way, a UDC also generates public added value. By using data intelligently, it is possible - for example - to deploy personnel and technological resources at the right place, take measures at the right locations in the public space and develop products or services that better meet the needs of residents or visitors.

Financial framework

Before a UDC is officially launched, CBS and the municipality jointly assess which data is required and in which areas collaboration is possible. The assessment covers the full breadth of the municipal budget. This results in a work plan that forms the basis for collaboration within the UDC. CBS supplies data, microdata and expertise to the UDC and the municipality provides a budget to carry out the research and assignments in the work plan. This budget is invested directly in better data, better insight, better decisions and better finance (by achieving savings) for the municipality. If CBS and the municipality organise it properly, the input from CBS is hence ultimately not a cost item but a saving, or an investment that can lead to a saving.


Sustainability is an increasingly important theme for many public authorities. After all, cities too must play their part in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defined by the United Nations. CBS is strongly committed to developing indicators to monitor progress on the SDGs, both nationally and internationally.
To that end, it has entered into a partnership with the World Council on City Data (WCCD). The WCCD specialises in ISO certification of cities in the areas of quality of life, sustainability and smart data under the ISO 37120 standard. WCCD certification is an important step towards gaining demonstrable status as a smart city. In the Netherlands both Amsterdam and Rotterdam have been awarded the ISO 37120 certificate. The WCCD and CBS have joined forces to support other Dutch cities in obtaining certification. This collaboration has already resulted in platinum ISO certification for the municipalities of Eindhoven, Heerlen and Zwolle. Most of the data required for certification is already held in-house by CBS. The other required data sets can also be created within a UDC.

International interest in the UDC concept

Many countries and cities around the world are grappling with the question of how national and local data can be optimised, harmonised and interconnected and how national statistical agencies and cities/municipalities can collaborate or improve their existing collaboration in order to achieve this. The links with international (UN) data and SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and the efforts made by cities worldwide to become “data-driven, evidence-based smart cities” also play an important role in this regard. Dutch experiences with the UDCs and the links established by CBS with the international WCCD-ISO 37130 certification for cities, as well as the SDGs, are therefore generating a lot of international interest.
CBS has been invited by Argentina, India and South Africa, among others, to discuss the provision of advice on establishing UDCs in those countries. International organisations such as the European Commission, the OECD and the UN are also very interested in the Dutch experiences.

Previous UDCs

The first CBS UDC was launched in the municipality of Eindhoven at the end of September 2016. The initiative was soon replicated in other municipalities: the end of November saw the launch of the CBS UDC in Heerlen, with the CBS UDC for the Groningen Region following at the end of January and UDCs in the municipalities of Venlo and Zwolle in mid-2017. A UDC is being opened in Leidschendam-Voorburg at the end of August and in The Hague at the end of September. CBS is discussing the establishment of Urban Data Centres with a number of other municipalities. Various provincial authorities have also expressed interest in developing a CBS Provincial Data Centre.