StatsCan finds a home on the range

It’s almost a place that James Bond might feel at home in, except there are no vodka martinis and definitely no bullets.

The new, high-tech Prairie Regional Research Data Centre on the University of Calgary campus officially opened Mon., Oct. 29. Dr. Gustave Goldmann of Statistics Canada was on hand to deliver a presentation on the centre’s operation and what function it will serve on the university campus.

"The RDC will promote research and facilitate access to Statistics Canada micro-data," explained Goldmann.

Micro-data is longitudinal information of a confidential nature collected by Statistics Canada, according to the RDC Web site.

The original idea of the RDC evolved from the work of a joint task force between the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Statistics Canada.

"[The task force determined] there’s a need for data that is much finer in detail to examine social issues," Goldmann said.

Access to the RDC is limited. Potential users must first submit a research proposal that indicates a need for the type of data contained in the RDC. The research proposal must then be approved by a committee composed of SSHRC and Statistics Canada representatives.

"A project has to demonstrate a need for access to detailed micro-data and must present clearly defined project objectives," Goldmann explained. "The number of projects are increasing dramatically but some are rejected if the work can be performed using public-use data."

The would-be users must also be deemed to have the capabilities and expertise necessary for advanced statistical research. Research teams may apply under a single principal applicant, and students may apply, but must have a letter of reference from a professor testifying to their abilities.

The RDC is located on the main floor of the MacKimmie library tower. It currently houses nine workstations with state-of-the-art computer equipment, with the possibility of adding another station. It also includes a small reference library of relevant books and manuals.

"The RDC is a secure Statistics Canada environment in a university setting," stated Goldmann. "The security is necessary because it houses Statistics Canada micro-data files."

The RDC is staffed by a Statistics Canada representative at all times and boasts security in both its physical construction and its operation. Security measures in the RDC correspond with standards used by Statistics Canada.

Users of the centre will have access to a variety of data sets. The computers in the centre operate on a private network, which may increase the RDC’s research potential in the future.

"In future, we’d like to add to the number of RDCs and expand the data holdings," said Goldmann. "We’re exploring a server-centric computing environment as a way for researchers from different RDCs to share data over a secure network."

The U of C RDC is one of only six currently in use in Canada, but two more are scheduled to open in December 2001, and another in March 2002. For more information, visit http://www.ucalgary.ca/~rdc/”>www.ucalgary.ca/~rdc/.

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