Working to provide easier access to data

Working to provide easier access to data

In 2015 NordForsk awarded NOK 14 million for a research project to be conducted jointly by the Nordic national statistical institutes (NSI’s). The project, Nordic Microdata Access Network (NordMAN), seeks to establish a single pan-Nordic solution to facilitate researcher access to the Nordic microdata compiled for statistical purposes, and to provide an overview of the existing Nordic registers.

The Nordic countries have a long history of collecting administrative data on individuals for statistical purposes. This practice has given the countries numerous different registers that often cover most of the population and which contain information about individuals from the cradle to the grave. Each of the Nordic statistical institutes provides its national researchers with access to de-identified microdata (data on individuals as well as companies), and register-based research is very prevalent in all the Nordic countries.

Launched in 2015

In autumn 2014 the Nordic chief statisticians agreed to establish a joint cooperation model for providing researchers with access to Nordic microdata collected for statistical purposes. Thanks to the funding allocated by NordForsk, the NordMAN project was launched in May 2015.

“In the past two years we have been working together to simplify application-related processes for Nordic collaborative projects. For example, we’ve developed common procedures for researchers applying for dataset access as part of Nordic projects. Among other things, this includes legal agreements regulating the exchange of data between the various national statistical institutes,” states Claus-Göran Hjelm, departmental director at Statistics Sweden and NordMAN project leader. He adds:

“It is our long-term goal that researchers who need access to datasets will only have to fill in one form instead of a different form for each country.”

“Our webpage has a detailed guide for how to go about applying for access in each Nordic country. We hope it will be useful to researchers who are wondering how to proceed. We are also working on allowing access to cross-Nordic data via the national statistical institute in the country where the project is being coordinated.”

High level of trust

Mr Hjelm admits that the process has been a challenging one, but says that the Nordic statistical institutes have a high level of trust in one another.

“Meeting again and again has given us all the opportunity to air the various concerns that the different Nordic countries have in relation to data sharing. The security of Nordic residents has always been at the core of our discussions, and the ability to meet and exchange experiences over time has also brought us closer to drawing up guidelines we all can trust.”

Important variables with divergent definitions

One of the challenges facing the NordMAN project is that although data on the respective Nordic populations have been collected over a number of decades, this information is categorised in vastly different ways. The importance of drawing up good metadata descriptions for the registers’ contents and structures was identified early on as a highly beneficial area of cooperation.

“The fact that there are so many different categories for subdividing data within each country obviously makes our work that much more difficult. It is very challenging to compare data when important variables are defined differently. A simple category such as “unemployed” may carry a different meaning from one statistical institute to the next. Together we have looked at how we can align our register descriptions more closely according to an international standard. If we can offer researchers a better overview of Nordic metadata in the future, the incredible research infrastructure that our registers represent will make it easier to answer interesting new research questions that arise,” he explains.

Find out what data are available

The NordMAN project’s common Nordic metadata model has already been tested in conjunction with a number of projects.

“To meet the needs of researchers we have designed a common Nordic metadata model. We also hope to begin using a software application enabling researchers to find out what data are available in the Nordic region. We have been working closely with several Nordic projects, and plan to incorporate metadata into this system as we move forward,” says Claus-Göran Hjelm.


Read more about the NordMAN project

Visit the NordMAN website


Text: Tor Martin Nilsen

Photo: Terje Heiestad

This article has previously been published in NordForsk Magazine 2017

What are metadata?

Metadata are a kind of information that describes or
defines other data. Metadata are normally used to describe
content or the structure of a given dataset by means of
variables. Typical metadata categories are subject, title, year
and place of residence.

What are microdata?

In the field of statistics and surveys, microdata are detailed
information at the level of the individual, such as a person’s
age, home address, education level, employment status and
numerous other variables.