Finnish Microdata Access Services - A new research infrastructure utilizing register-based data

Finnish Microdata Access Services (FMAS) will be a new research infrastructure intended to facilitate access to register data and increase confidentiality protection in research utilising register-based data. In 2013, FMAS was accepted into Finland’s roadmap for research infrastructure. The project is hosted by the National Archives as well as Statistics Finland and is funded by the Academy of Finland.

FMAS will greatly increase the number of high-quality, register-based studies and the potential for new innovations that will increase the competitiveness of Finnish science. The infrastructure will also improve prerequisites for evidence-based policy.

Utilising rich sources of data

National population-based registers, especially personal data registers, are rich sources of data for scientific research. A large number of electronic registers for several scientific fields, including data gathered for statistical purposes, are held at the national level in the Nordic countries and offer a unique opportunity for research. The value of these microdata as a source of research data is further increased by the possibility to link them together using unique identity numbers.

This goldmine could be utilized much more effectively in scientific research in Finland. Permit application and data access processes are hampered by several facts. The use of register data in scientific research has been made possible by legislation. Furthermore, registers are held by many authorities in different administrative sectors, and the confidentiality of the personal data poses special challenges for delivery systems. Due to these preconditions, permit application and data access processes are complicated, expensive and time-consuming. 

Construction of the infrastructure began in 2014 and the new services will be introduced by the end of 2016. After that, the services will be actively maintained and developed.

Services provided

The FMAS project includes the following interoperable services, of which (A) and (C) are hosted by Statistics Finland and (B) and (D) are hosted by the National Archives.

(A) Metadata catalogue.
The catalogue includes descriptive information on those governmental registers and micro-level data files that can be used for research purposes. The metadata are as specific as possible at the level of the registers, data files and the variables.

(B) Joint permit service.
Through this digital service researchers can ask for permission to use data from several different organizations with only one application per study.  

 (C)Remote Access system.
This service consists of a secure remote desktop with services and applications for processing and analysing data sets. The researcher can receive and link data from several authorities. All researchers within the same project have a common worksite.

(D) Information and support service, including web portal and development forum for researchers.
Thisinformation and support service for register-based research will be developed in response to the needs of the new remote access system, also taking into account the legacy ways of receiving data by dissemination. 

The present project was based on two previous projects:
1) Micro Data Remote Access System (MIDRAS), which was proposed to the first RI roadmap by the Finnish Information Centre for Register Research (ReTki) and further developed in a planning and pilot project conducted by ReTki and CSC – IT Center for Science Ltd;
2) the development of the remote access system for statistical microdata which is now in use at Statistics Finland.

For further information, please contact:

Irma-Leena Notkola
Senior researcher
The National Archives of Finland
Tel: +358 29 533 7070