Statistics Canada to locate first national research data centre at McMaster


Statistics Canada has compiled an extensive collection of data, which could provide the country with vital information required to make proper policy decisions.

Self-admittedly however, the national organization has struggled to make its ever-increasing amount of resources available to researchers across the country.

The Canadian Initiative on Social Statistics (CISS) hopes to change that.

CISS is a co-operative project of Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Statistics Canada. Its aim is to promote research and training in the application of social statistics.

McMaster will play a leading role in the project, as the location for the first Research Data Centre.

University President Peter George, a professor of economics, says the establishment of the data centre is a “major step forward for social scientific research at McMaster.”

McMaster professor of economics Byron Spencer will direct the national pilot project, which will be housed in Mills Library and is expected to open in late June.

“This is an important step in finding ways to make Statistics Canada data available to the research community,” says Spencer.

This project was a recommendation from a nine-member national task force, composed of leading Canadian researchers and statisticians. That group studied a number of broad issues pertaining to large quantitative databases (such as those of Statistics Canada) and examined barriers that hamper extensive use of data.

“As a nation we have very little capacity to conduct social policy research, evaluate social programs or monitor progress towards achieving social aims,” said the task force in a report released in December 1998.

The group identified three major barriers: a lack of trained researchers in the field of quantitative analysis; a lack of easy access to Statistics Canada data for those not directly linked to the organization; and a lack of effective linkages between researchers and those involved in public policy development.

A key element of the report is the establishment of a number of data research centres. These centres are meant to provide secure locations for data and are modeled around a similar program by the U.S. Census Bureau. It's a move to bring information close to the people who need it most — universities.

“It is anticipated that the availability of the research datacentres would allow the host universities and affiliated regional universities to attract top-quality social scientists, and would assist in the development of strong programs in potentially a number of disciplines,” said the report.

Spencer is also the director of the Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population program, which is a multi-disciplinary research program funded primarily by SSHRC and centred at McMaster. Since 1996, he's also directed the Research Institute for Quantitative Studies in Economics and Population.