Researcher access to public institutions’ micro data: a win-win scenario

Ana Esteban , Juan Peñalosa

Four years ago, the Banco de España opened its data laboratory BELab, to provide the research community with access to a wealth of micro data. We are now taking the next step to make a much broader range of data available to researchers through an ambitious agreement with other Spanish public institutions.

As we often hear, in the Information AgeOpens in new window data are the most valuable resource. Government agencies handle large volumes of detailed data which they use to carry out their functions. Opening up access to these administrative micro data for researchers fosters a better understanding of our economic and social reality, which in turn can guide public policy design. This ultimately benefits society as a whole.

BELabOpens in new window is the Banco de España’s response to this challenge. And the recent agreement reached between five Spanish government agencies marks another milestone along this path. This agreement will make it possible to match their micro data which, as we will see below, will multiply their value.

What micro data do we offer and how can they be accessed?

The Banco de España is well aware of how important it is to base any analysis of the Spanish economy on a rigorous study of the data. And the greater the level of detail (or granularity) of the data, the more useful they are. It is for this very reason that much of our work focuses on compiling and analysing micro dataOpens in new window. We also offer external researchers secure access to certain confidential data through our BELab data laboratory.

BELab currently provides access to micro datasets from various sectors. The data catalogueOpens in new window available to researchers is shown in Figure 1. To gain access, researchers must first fill out a formOpens in new window with their personal details and information on the proposed project. The stepsOpens in new window to be followed are summarised in Figure 2.

Figure 1

SOURCE: Banco de España, micro data available in BELab.
NOTE: Researchers interested in accessing BELab can find out more about the data catalogue by clicking on this linkOpens in new window. CBI: Integrated CBSO database; CBC: CBSO consolidated accounts; CCR: Central Credit Register; EBAE: Banco de España Business Activity Survey; BEV = Securities Issues Database.

Figure 2

Opening up access to micro data can prove very beneficial to the research community, as highlighted in a recent blog postOpens in new window about individual taxpayers’ micro data.

We ensure that access to data does not infringe on individual data privacy

Reading this, you may have concerns about data privacy and protection for you or your firm. So how do we ensure that access to these data is compatible with individual data privacy?

- First, BELab is an isolated, restricted and secure environment. All the data are anonymisedOpens in new window, meaning that no individual person or firm can be identified.

- Second, when researchers complete a BELab project, they cannot extract any granular data, only tables or charts that sum up their findings, and only after an exhaustive review has been carried out to ensure that these contain no confidential information.

Is it possible to access linked data from Spanish public institutions?

Individual datasets are highly valuable, but the value of data held by public institutions multiplies when datasets can be matched or linked. Other countries have advanced in this respect. In France, for instance, a number of government agencies have joined together to allow researchers secure access to confidential data through the CASDOpens in new window.

Accessing linked data is only possible where there are inter-institutional agreements in place. These are gaining ground in Spain. One example of this type of collaboration is the agreementOpens in new window signed by the Banco de España and the Spanish Association of Mercantile and Property Registrars, granting researchers access to the corporate balance sheets and income statements that the Central Balance Sheet Data OfficeOpens in new window receives from the registers.

Similarly, the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE) (acting as coordinator), the State tax revenue service (AEAT), Social Security, the National Public Employment Service (SEPE) and the Banco de España have recently signed an agreementOpens in new window under which confidential and duly anonymised data held by any of these institutions may be matched. Other government agencies are welcome to sign up to this initiative in the future.

The general principles of this agreement are similar to those applicable in BELab: providing efficient access to micro data, while scrupulously guaranteeing the confidentiality of all information relating to individuals and firms. The participating institutions have also undertaken to respect the principles of transparency and equal treatment. Researchers may only access matched data once the institutions involved agree that the project proposed is a valid one.

More information on how the system works will be published on the websites of the five participating institutions in the coming weeks.

Cause for celebration: access to linked data from Spanish public institutions will support public policy design

In short, both the research community and the general public now have cause for celebration. Fuller and easier access to linked administrative micro data will boost knowledge of the Spanish economic and social reality and assist in the design of better oriented and more effective public policies.

Ana Esteban
Ana Esteban
  • Unit Manager, BELab
  • Statistics
Juan Peñalosa
Juan Peñalosa
  • Director
  • Statistics Department

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily coincide with those of the Banco de España or the Eurosystem.

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