The complexity of economic and social change and the progress made in science and information technology have led to a fundamental change in modern societies' need for data. The data required to analyse and shape modern societies must in particular provide information on social sub-groups and allow to perform analyses of economic and social change on the basis of longitudinal data. Due to the changed information demand, it is no longer sufficient to publish results in the form of tables. To meet the requirements in terms of methodology and content, it is necessary to present statistical data in a way meeting the data demand of the scientific community. This includes providing access to anonymised and non-anonymised microdata which allow to perform more varied analyses.
In this context, an intensive discussion has been going on in Germany over the last few years on granting the scientific community access to microdata of official statistics. Commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Education and Science, the Kommission zur Verbesserung der informationellen Infrastruktur zwischen Wissenschaft und Statistik (KVI - Commission to improve the informational infrastructure by co-operation of the scientific community and official statistics) developed several proposals on how to improve the interaction between the scientific community and official statistics. One of the central institutional recommendations of that Commission was that research data centres be set up as soon as possible at the location of data producers. That recommendation has been taken up by official statistics. In 2001, the Federal Statistical Office established such a research data centre. Another research data centre of the statistical offices of the Länder was set up in March 2002 as a joint facility of all statistical offices of the Länder with 16 regional locations. By establishing the research data centres, German official statistics has been intensifying its efforts to make official statistical microdata accessible for scientific analyses.
The purpose of this paper is to present the new forms and ways of using official microdata that have resulted from setting up the research data centres. As an introduction, an overview will be given of how the framework conditions of using microdata of official statistics have developed in Germany. This will be followed by describing the goals and tasks of the research data centres of the Federal Statistical Office and the statistical offices of the Länder and presenting the various possibilities of data use offered by the research data centres.