Helena Laaksonen

Amendment to the Statistics Act Enables Scientific Reuse of Welfare Data

photoAccording to Pasi Moisio, Research Professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), large representative population surveys paint a different picture of the changes in Finnish welfare in the 2000s than the media. "To slightly exaggerate: Finns think that things are going terribly in the world, but at the same time think that 'my family is doing all right'".

Pasi Moisio has been conducting Welfare and Services in Finland surveys since the beginning of the 2000s. The archiving process of the data from the years 2004, 2006 and 2009 could only be started when the 2013 data collection was being planned, even though the aim was, from the outset, to make use of FSD services and provide as open access to data as possible.

All the background variables in the data are derived from Statistics Finland registers. Prior to the amendment to the Statistics Act, it was not possible to disseminate register data to third parties without a permission from Statistics Finland, which had to be asked separately for each access application.

Amendment allows for archiving background variables

"Statistics Finland gave permission to deposit the data at the FSD but requested that background variables derived from registers be removed. These included variables containing information on, for example, respondent gender, age and income. Such data would have been worthless to users", Professor Moisio points out. This made the THL give up the idea of depositing the data at the time.

After the amendment to the Statistics Act, the archiving process took off quickly, as the representatives of Statistics Finland informed the THL that they were already cooperating with the FSD.

It had been possible to gain access to the Welfare and Services data for research purposes even before the deposition at the data archive, but the THL had not been able to hand over the management of the data. As access applications for the data were few and far between, THL staff took care of data delivery in addition to their other responsibilities and there was no routine to the process. Data delivery and access application processing took a great deal more time than they do now.

Challenges of openly available data

According to Professor Moisio, the THL, like other Statistics authorities, faces a challenge when it comes to the demand for openly available data: "The pressure to provide open access to data has increased, but there often aren’t resources to do so. That’s why the current situation is excellent for the THL in terms of distribution of work."

The data archive takes care of the long-term preservation of data, and researchers can download the data via the archive’s Data Service Portal. For the time being, the Welfare and Services in Finland data are available for reuse only by permission from the survey steering group. The steering group will decide whether to grant access to data after reviewing the research plan of the applicant.

Tips for data reusers

Professor Moisio says that the Welfare and Services data offer a variety of unused material for both welfare research and methodological research. "For example, in the 2004 and 2006 surveys two slightly differing formulations of an attitudinal statement about the level of social security were presented randomly to different interviewees," he says, giving a tip for reusers of the data.

The survey series has a built-in, so-called 50 percent rotating panel, which means that half of the respondents in each collection round are always responding for the first time and the other half have been interviewed on the previous round. According to Professor Moisio, research potential offered by the panel design has not been exploited very much so far.

"Additionally, it is worth pointing out that the response rates and quality of the surveys are exceptionally high," he reminds.

The report of the most recent survey, collected in 2013, was published in December 2014. The data will be available at the FSD in the near future.