Data producers are faced with an ever-expanding demand for relevant and accurate information. Providing researchers with access to microdata has many potential benefits: It would foster diversity and quality of analyses, broaden the use of existing data, and increase the return on data collection investments.
Disseminating microdata, however, also entails costs and risks, the most obvious being the risk of disclosure of confidential information. While data producers are well aware of the power and importance of microdata, they have to balance this demand with ethical and legal obligations to keep respondent information confidential. In most cases, this is a requirement of a country’s statistical and privacy legislation and is assumed by the respondents when they provide the information. Statistical agencies must continue to ensure that they maintain the trust and confidence of respondents. Without this trust, cooperation in surveys would diminish and the quality of the statistics would suffer.
Determining the best way to disseminate the wealth of information is one of the many challenges facing data producers. The practice of providing access to microdata files has been in existence for over 40 years and has recently received attention from international statistical agencies. The suggestions and recommendations provided in this website draw on this experience, and are intended to assist data producers in formulating a dissemination policy and determining technical and practical options for sharing their data. They cover:
- Benefits of microdata dissemination
- Costs and risks associated with microdata sharing
- Alternatives to microdata dissemination
- Legal issues associated with microdata sharing
- Ethical issues associated with microdata sharing
- Various levels of accessibility to microdata
- Pricing policy: Should data be provided for free or for a fee?
- Timing of data release: When should microdata be disseminated?
- Guidelines for the formulation of a dissemination policy
The guidelines provided in this section are intended to help microdata producers and depositors develop their own policies and procedures for disseminating microdata files. It is important that such policies and procedures are formal and transparent. Proper microdata dissemination involves not only the provision of data and related documentation, but also of mandatory conditions for using the data.
While most of this guide is generic, it is meant primarily for use by official data producers—national statistical offices and line ministries—in developing countries. The term “data” generally refers to microdata obtained from sample surveys, censuses, and administrative data collection systems.