1. Broad description
Starting in 2000, Statistics Canada, in partnership with participating Canadian universities, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, established a network of Research Data Centres (RDC) in Canadian universities. These centres are enclaves of Statistics Canada, within which researchers have access to household survey data in an environment that respects Statistics Canada's requirements for security and confidentiality. There are currently 15 RDC locations across the country, plus a federal RDC in Ottawa used by statistical researchers in federal government departments.
2. Why is it good practice?
The Chief Statistician and the President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (a granting council for the human sciences) established a panel of highly qualified individuals to assess how social sciences could become more relevant and more quantitatively oriented. The panel observed that Canada's capacity in the quantitative social sciences was stagnating, due in part to difficulties in accessing the data needed to conduct analyses on some of the important socio-economic and demographic issues facing Canadian society. It was also observed that the advent of complex longitudinal survey data made it very difficult (if not impossible) to create useful public-use microdata files. The Research Data Centre Program successfully addresses the issues of access while respecting the provisions of the Statistics Act for security and confidentiality of the data. The RDC Program makes it possible for researchers outside Statistics Canada to directly access microdata (after satisfying several conditions) that would otherwise not be available to them. Society benefits because insights are gained that would otherwise not be possible; and the statistical system benefits because the visible relevance of available statistical information increases. The following are the basic features:
- Academics wishing to access confidential microdata submit a research proposal which is peer reviewed by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council;
- Authors of accepted proposals are sworn in under the Statistics Act as employees of Statistics Canada, subject to all the conditions and penalties of the Statistics Act;
- All work is carried out in an RDC, which in turn is supervised by a regular Statistics Canada employee;
- Academics must submit a short article to SC for potential publication.
The proposal is based on two features of the Statistics Act: first, that it explicitly mandates Statistics Canada to analyse data; and second, it allows the agency to swear in under the Act personnel needed to carry out its mandate.
3. Target audience
The RDC Programme is open to all researchers who are not employees of Statistics Canada and who require microdata for statistical research. This includes established academics, new researchers, graduate students and researchers from federal departments and provincial governments.
4. Detailed description
A researcher (or research team) seeking access to the detailed microdata must submit a proposal that outlines the analyses to be conducted. The proposal must be a maximum of five pages excluding the CV of the researcher(s) and it must contain the following information:
- Project title;
- Rationale and objectives of the study, including: specific questions or objectives of the project; and how the research will contribute to the knowledge in the field of study;
- Proposed data analysis and software requirements including: the proposed statistical methodology; its suitability for this project; and the software needed;
- Data requirements including: why access to the confidential data (as opposed to public use microdata files) is necessary; the survey file/files or cycles to be used; a description of the specific population of interest; and a list of the variables to be used;
- Expected project start and end dates; and
- References - sources of quotes used in the proposal or for specific analytical methods employed.
All proposed research projects are reviewed by a peer-group committee who determine the academic merit of the work and the suitability of the methods and the data. They also verify that the work can only be undertaken with access to the confidential data files. In cases where the Public Use Files would be suitable or the work lacks rigour or focus, the application will be denied. Approved researchers have access to the required files within a RDC, but only results that have been screened for disclosure protection can be removed from the RDC. Researchers are required to produce a report for Statistics Canada as part of their commitment under the Statistics Act (the so-called "deemed employee" provisions of the Act). Once that obligation is fulfilled, researchers are free to publish other articles that may be based on the research project.
Before being granted access to the data, researchers must undergo a security check; sign the oath/affirmation of secrecy required by the Statistics Act; acknowledge in writing that they have read and understood the relevant sections in the Statistics Act and specifically the policies related to data confidentiality and security; acknowledge in writing that they have read the documentation on conflict of interest and declaring that they will comply with the requirements.
The RDC network has substantially increased the access by researchers to the complex detailed microdata survey files. As of June 2005 there were over 500 active projects and over 1,300 researchers in the centres. Approximately one third of the researchers are students. There are also over 280 articles, book chapters, working papers and theses that have been published from the research conducted in the centres.
5. Supporting legislation
Section 5 of the Statistics Act permits persons carrying out any function or performing work for Statistics Canada to become "deemed employees", thereby allowing access to the confidential data files.
- Allows access to data outside the Statistics Canada offices while continuing to respect the requirements of the Statistics Act.
- Increases the opportunity to conduct research on key socio-economic and demographic issues and expands the quantity and range of research outputs using statistical data.
- Effective in developing the next generation of quantitative social scientists in Canada.
- Provides greater research opportunities for highly qualified analysts who do not reside in cities in which Statistics Canada has offices.
- As the use of the data increases, greater feedback is obtained on the surveys and the data sets that they generate. This results in quality improvements in the data and it opens new possibilities for the use of the data.
- Accelerates the development of advanced statistical methods required to analyse complex survey data.
- Provides Statistics Canada with much more detailed and timely information on the use of its data.
- Locating RDCs in universities reduces the cost of conducting research since it eliminates the need for travel for many researchers.
- The research conducted in the RDCs adds substantially to the body of literature on major social, economic and demographic questions affecting Canadian society. It also serves to inform public policy and debate.
- RDCs are costly to build, manage and operate. This places them out of the reach of some of the smaller universities in Canada.
- All output must be vetted for confidentiality prior to leaving the RDC. This is a manual effort and, even when prompt attention is given to the vetting, results in some delays to the researcher.
- To date, data sets in the RDCs have been from household surveys. Although the demand exists and there are no technological barriers, access to data from the census of population and from business surveys are not placed in the RDCs.
Statistics Canada's Policy on the Use of Deemed Employees is available on request. More information on the Research Data Centre Program can be viewed at the Statistics Canada web site at: www.statcan.ca/english/rdc.
30 Aug 2013