Traditionally, official data producers conducted household surveys and published the results in the form of a descriptive or analytical report and collection of tables. Increasingly, these agencies now disseminate microdata in public use or "research use” files.
Providing the research community with access to microdata has major advantages, and adds considerable value to the data. For that reason, the IHSN is a strong advocate of microdata dissemination. But one must also acknowledge that from the point of view of the data producer, microdata sharing involves costs and risks. Not only technical and financial issues but also legal and ethical issues must be addressed. Microdata dissemination must be done in compliance with national legislations and based on clear policies and procedures. To help agencies define policies and protocols for microdata dissemination, the IHSN:
- Produced a paper providing recommendations for the formulation of microdata dissemination policies and practices
- Commissioned a paper on Statistics Canada's Data Liberation Initiative, describing why and how an official statistical agency moved from a "data protection" to a "data sharing" model
- Commissioned a paper on a similar experience by the Ethiopian Central Statistical Agency.