‘In five years’ time, the face of data sharing will look radically different from what it is today’

Jeroen van Velzen is a member of RINIS’s Supervisory Committee and has been sitting on the company’s Administrative Consultation Committee ‘for the past five years or so’. Previously, he already served as RINIS’s dedicated contact on behalf of the Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS) (Statistics Netherlands), where he is currently acting Director of Data Services, Research and Innovation. ‘RINIS is not just a service provider, it also acts as a gathering ground.’

What did RINIS do for the CBS?

‘For starters, RINIS set up a proper and robust data exchange system with other government organisations. This is critically important to us. RINIS unburdens us: when RINIS is involved, I can rest safe in the knowledge that things are properly organised.’

‘The nice thing about RINIS is also the fact that it is a joint initiative. Developments in the area of data sharing come in quick succession. You need one another in order to respond accordingly. As friends amongst each other, only in a professional manner. RINIS is not just a service provider, it also acts as a gathering ground for the key players within government.’

Data sharing is evolving. What would you say is the principal development?

‘There is no such thing as an authority that regulates the exchange of data for us. Data owners themselves are responsible for the way their data are used and they are keen to remain in control. The same obviously also applies to the CBS: we only use data exchanges for the purpose of statistics. People should be in no doubt whatsoever as to the circumspect way we deal with data. From a technology perspective, almost anything is feasible now, which means the limits of the exchange of data are increasingly determined by other issues: what is desirable in terms of privacy, which things deliver added value?’

‘People should be in no doubt whatsoever as to the circumspect way we deal with data’

Do you ever lie awake at night thinking about data sharing?

‘No, I would not quite go so far as to say I lie awake at night. But I am duly aware that the world will look radically different in five years’ time from now. What we have in place right now in terms of data sharing will no longer be up to date by then. Take artificial intelligence for instance: there is an increasing amount of insight and understanding to be derived from data. It is vital that we keep up with the latest developments in this respect.’

Can you see opportunities for data sharing that remain untapped?

‘New technological capabilities are helping us to make the sharing of data more efficient, more up to date, more appropriate and more straightforward. This enables government to improve its service delivery to citizens and businesses. The way things stand, if you are entitled to a particular benefit or other facilities, you need to find out for yourself. We can do a lot better in this respect.’

‘Having said that, I’m also very proud of what we managed to pull off through concerted action in corona times. Data play an important role in the day-to-day prognoses, models and forecasts that are updated on a daily basis. Which is testament to the fact that we’ve got our IT infrastructure sorted.’

What are the links between the CBS and Europe?

‘We focus on numerical data about the Netherlands, but these data take on greater meaning when compared to figures about other European countries. Which is why we have an extensive network of statistics agencies across Europe. In addition, there is no escaping the fact that Europe is obviously also quite simply a major factor in the Dutch economy on account of the amount of cross-border trade and labour.’

‘What we have in place right now in terms of data sharing will no longer be up to date in five years time’

What do you wish in terms of e-government?

‘Perseverance. As we no longer have an authority in the area of data sharing, it is up to all of us to get the job done together. This requires a different approach to the way we collaborate. We are seeing different worlds drawing ever closer together: the traditional, hierarchically structured world and the new network world. And the two don't always make for a seamless fit. As a result, we get hiccups with payments and draft decisions are often greatly bureaucratised. For now, I’m not clear yet how we should resolve these issues. But the time to fit that jigsaw together is now.’

In conclusion, here is a question from the previous member of the Administrative Consultation Committee we interviewed, Henk Blindenbach of the CIZ (Care Needs Assessment Centre): ‘There will always be a degree of tension between the need to share data in order to improve the delivery of services to citizens and citizens’ privacy. How do you reckon we might be able to reconcile these realms?’

‘I believe new technology will help us achieve this aim. Take e-Identification, for example. This technology enables the CBS to swiftly collect the relevant data from private businesses, whilst the companies themselves remain in full control. This produces a much more appropriate and more efficient exchange of data, without compromising on data security or privacy.’

What question would you like to ask the next incoming member of the Administrative Consultation Committee?

‘We are moving towards an open system whereby government organisations organise their data in a variety of different ways. Some organisations will organise their data exchanges one-on-one between themselves, whereas other prefer a joint, collective solution. What is the role of RINIS in this network: that of a service provider, a director, an innovator or something else entirely perhaps?’

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