Reintegration programmes: what works for whom?

How can big data contribute to efficient reintegration programmes?

Dutch municipalities are responsible for reintegration programmes and use a wide range of approaches in order to help people into employment. However, it is not always clear whether their measures are effective, and they are not always tailored to the people whom they are designed to help. The question is therefore: what works for whom? The municipalities require tailor-made measures.

Dr Marike Knoef (econometrist at Leiden University), Dr Merel Schuring (researcher of labour force participation and public health at Erasmus MC) and Prof. Liesbet van Zoonen, (sociologist at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and Academic Director of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities) will be researching how big data can be used in the development of personalised reintegration programmes: can linking various data help to create well-founded, tailor-made programmes?

big data

Data, data, more data

Municipalities have access to enormous amounts of data about the services offered to people with regard to, for example, healthcare, debt assistance or help finding employment. ‘We first need to chart what municipal data there is, and what of this data is relevant,’ explains Marike Knoef.  The quality of the data is vital: is it properly registered, can it be compared, is it error-free? Initial assessments will be made in Rotterdam, which is being used as the trial municipality. The researchers will link this municipal data to Statistics Netherlands (CBS) data on work, age, healthcare usage and debts. The four major Dutch municipalities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht (known collectively as the G4) are all closely involved with determining the objectives of the project, but Rotterdam is being using as the test case, to which the additional data set will be linked.

‘Who knows what we will discover’

Knoef: ‘We examine municipal policy before deciding which measures to research. Take the target group of single parents, for example. These people are not obliged to work until their child turns five. We look at how effective this measure is by comparing work and ability to live independently before and after the child’s fifth birthday. By linking a huge range of factors, such as sex, number of children, marital status and health, we can determine for whom the measure was effective. This consequently helps us work towards tailor-made reintegration programmes. I am really curious what the results will be. Who knows what we will discover.’


The municipal data is encrypted and linked anonymously within the data set and to the CBS data. Knoef: ‘We are extremely aware of privacy concerns. We use a CBS facility with a fingerprint log-in system. All of the data is anonymised and the project group also meets with the municipal client councils for so-called ‘data dialogues’ to discuss the risks, obstacles and sensitivities. This is an essential part of our research.’

Prof. Liesbet van Zoonen: ‘Most people have no idea of the types of data that are available about them, and what that data can be used for. They often have something of an unguided worry about their privacy; working closely with the client councils means we can both inform them and include their concerns in the project.’

Combined approach

The project is financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMW). This research is part of the ‘Setting to Work Professionally’ (‘Vakkundig aan het Werk’) programme, which is focused on reintegration, health and tackling poverty. Schuring: ‘A combined approach – that of removing obstacles combined with help finding employment – has the most potential for helping people find jobs in the case of unemployed people with multiple problems. Being employed is beneficial for well-being and health. Work often results in an increased ability to live independently and reduced claims on healthcare services. It is important that we research who we can help by removing obstacles, and how this impacts labour participation and health. If we are able to answer these questions, we will be able to develop personalised reintegration programmes.’

The two-year project will start on 1 May 2017.

With their data-focused research, the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities contributes to finding solutions to urban issues. The perspective of city residents remains a primary concern. ‘BOLD’ stands for ‘Big, Open and Linked Data’.

More information:
Personal page Marike Knoef
LinkedIn Merel Schuring
Personal page Liebet van Zoonen