Author: CBS
CBS Multi-annual Programme 2024-2028

Strategic objective 2: Increasing access to data

Improving the availability and use of data

There is increasingly wide recognition of the power of data for policymaking, monitoring and implementation. CBS will improve access to and availability of its data and will make its knowledge and experience available to support other government organisations in the responsible use of data. It will thus increase the societal added value of the data.

As part of this strategic objective, CBS has formulated the following ambitions:

1. Increasing the accessibility and use of data and microdata

CBS has a wealth of data, obtained from enterprises, citizens, government  and other organisations. It considers the information that it compiles on this basis to be a public good. To enable even greater and better use of this information, for example in combating disinformation, CBS will invest in improving the accessibility of data during the planning period.

In the first place, it will make it easier to find information through its website. Dashboards are being designed for as many subjects as possible. During the planning period, CBS will renew StatLine, its online database, in consultation with users, to make the information easier to find and more useful. It will also devote attention to the accessibility of information on its working methods, such as method descriptions, privacy and data protection measures and publication schedules, so as to be more transparent about the production of statistics and the guarantees that CBS provides.

More and more operators are using the open data that CBS makes available; users are therefore increasingly calling for support. CBS also accesses open data from other government bodies. This also requires attention and time. CBS will therefore increase its open data services in the forthcoming period. It also notes that a lot of valuable data is available in other organisations that is not (yet) always made publicly accessible. CBS wishes to use its knowledge and experience in initiatives aimed at maximising the amount of government data available as open data.

Access to secure CBS microdata meets an important need on the part of researchers and contributes to greater societal use of CBS data. The use of this facility has increased sharply in recent years, bringing new wishes and challenges. Users need better services than CBS is currently offering. CBS is aware of the perceived obstacles to the use of secure microdata and will make investments in the years ahead to improve its services without compromising on the current level of security. A familiar impediment, particularly for less wealthy organisations, is the cost. CBS considers that microdata access is a public facility and that accessibility should not be impeded by high costs. Secure microdatasets are currently provided on a limited scale. This entails more security risks than working by means of remote access. CBS is investing to improve the user-friendliness and functionality of the remote-access facility to limit the provision of microdatasets as far as possible. CBS aims to phase out the provision of microdatasets by the end of the planning period, while keeping the level of user access to such microdata unchanged. In all cases, CBS guarantees information security and privacy protection.

2. Encouraging and facilitating working with data

CBS has a great deal of knowledge of data and what is needed to use it responsibly. This includes storing, processing and accessing data, data networking, information security and privacy protection. It also has a great deal of experience and expertise in the field of metadata (information on the content of a database, such as a description of the variables) and standards (definitions of variables, classifications, quality descriptions, file formats, etc.). CBS is happy to make this knowledge available to government organisations and the scientific community on request.

CBS aims to support government organisations and the scientific community with its knowledge and experience of working with data, fulfilling an advisory and facilitating role. This increasingly means that CBS contributes knowledge rather than statistical products. It does so by improving access to CBS data and its own services relating to advice, training, and participation in broad working groups. In this way, CBS contributes to government-wide programmes, such as the intergovernmental data strategy. Within this intergovernmental data strategy, ministries, executive agencies and umbrella organisations of local and regional authorities aim to outline opportunities relating to the government’s ability to make effective use of data to tackle societal challenges. Specific attention is devoted to case law, technology, and what is socially and ethically desirable.

Government organisations and scientific institutions look to CBS for help in opening up access to the data held by these organisations. This wish was also explicitly stated in the external consultation, as CBS has the knowledge and infrastructure required to do so safely. At the request of government authorities, CBS can make data available to these authorities for statistical purposes, even if CBS itself does not need the data for its own statistical programme. This is consistent with CBS’ statutory duty to promote the provision of statistics by the government and the accuracy and completeness of the statistics. In doing so, CBS fulfils a frequently stated wish and contributes to responsible data use.

In all these activities, data can only be used for statistical or scientific research. It is essential to ensure at all times that results cannot be traced back to individual persons, institutions or enterprises. Data use for decisions at an individual level, for example for supervision, enforcement or detection, is never permitted.

Metadata is an important means of improving the findability and usability of both statistical data and microdata for internal and external users. CBS is therefore developing a (harmonised) metadata database that will be used as standard for all data processed by CBS. This will allow better use of CBS data and increase access to our data.

Standards are essential for correct use and interpretation of data. Data can only be combined and interpreted when it is clear which groups and which phenomena the data relate to, how variables are defined, what the quality of the data is, how data are processed etc. CBS is highly regarded nationally and internationally in the field of standards, metadata, classifications, quality descriptions and the like. CBS therefore actively promotes standards and their use within government and assists government organisations in developing and implementing standards.

3. Gaining access to necessary private data sources

CBS is always looking for new data sources in order to describe the changes in society, to meet requirements for statistical information and to limit the administrative burden. The necessary data sources are increasingly available only from private operators. By law, CBS can access all government records without charge, but this does not apply to private operators’ data sources.

For the information it needs to perform its statutory duties, CBS therefore depends on voluntary provision by private operators. This situation does not sufficiently guarantee the completeness of the information and the quality and continuity of the statistics. Additional regulations could offer clarity to all parties with regard to the need to provide these data. This does not mean that CBS wants unlimited access to data from private data source owners; it only wants information necessary for the production of statistics. This currently includes public transport data, data from smart meters, test and vaccination data related to COVID-19, data concerning energy contracts and data concerning mobile telephony. To some extent, developments in the countries around us are more advanced than in the Netherlands; it is important to ensure that CBS does not fall behind.

In many cases, datasets at group level will be sufficient. The relevant data source owner can compile these at the request of and with the help of CBS, so only that information is provided. This is preferable for various reasons. The principle of data minimisation is that no more data are provided than are necessary. Moreover, privacy risks are limited when information is not provided at an individual level.

4. Ethical handling of data issues

CBS provides statistical information on societally relevant themes. This also requires ethical awareness: not everything CBS is permitted or able to do is also desirable from an ethical perspective. CBS has an Ethics Committee that advises on ethical issues.

CBS is increasingly finding that requests to use data or produce statistics raise ethical questions. The Ethics Committee considers whether the social benefits of a study outweigh the burden. This concerns questions such as: what is the effect of certain information on vulnerable and other groups in society, can sound conclusions be linked to the expected outcomes of a study, what does the data collection method mean in terms of the strain and emotional burden on respondents and how does all this relate to the societal value of research results? CBS expects data ethics to take on greater importance over the planning period. CBS is mindful of the ethical aspects of a study and may decide not to conduct it for ethical reasons.

The increasing need for information may lead to a tendency to collect and experiment with data indiscriminately, but that is not permitted. A clear societal need for information is always paramount for CBS. A targeted search can then be made for data sources that are necessary to meet the need. Innovative applications require some room for experimentation, precisely in order to provide clarity within the foreseeable future about the purpose for which data will be collected. CBS therefore never engages in unlimited and indiscriminate data collection.