CERN technology to support study of socio-economic inequities, in new collaboration with Statistics Netherlands

The CERN-codeveloped BioDynaMo technology in collaboration with Statistics Netherlands will perform large-scale data modelling on socio-economic parameters by creating a digital twin of the Netherlands; this can help policy makers combat social inequities


CERN CBS collaboration

Insights on socio-economic parameters can help devise better policies for well-balanced societies. (Image: Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash)

What makes people decide to relocate or start saving more money? What makes us choose a more sustainable lifestyle? Insights into such questions are important for governments to understand the socio-economic dynamics of the societies we live in, and consequently devise better policies aimed at achieving a well-balanced society. CERN and the Dutch National Statistics institute, Statistical Netherlands (SN) (a.k.a. Centraal Bureau voor de statistiek – CBS) have joined hands, to help in achieving this aim by using their expertise to study the socio-economic trends of an entire country.

Statistics Netherlands has experience in building models to study the behaviour of Dutch citizens- not just on an individual level, but on an aggregated population level. But in order to build more powerful socio-economic models, robust computing technology and specialised know-how related to the processing of large amounts of data is essential. There’s also a need for the skills required to build a validated model which can be used to run simulations.

At CERN, there is a long tradition of managing vast amounts of data and using advanced modelling capability. Frank Pijpers, Senior Methodologist at SN explains:

Having the software and computing power to simulate the interaction between 17 million citizens is new in the socio-economic field. We have the data and CERN has the tools. That is what makes this a unique collaboration.

A collaboration agreement has been signed that will allow a digital twin to be built for the entire population, 17+ million citizens of the Netherlands. The intention is to use this digital twin to improve the understanding of social mechanisms that affect economic behaviour. This could help identify and address the needs of society. This will be developed at the SN facility in Netherlands by joining the SN data with a powerful software tool for agent-based modelling: BioDynaMo, which started as a CERN openlab collaborative project and was co-funded by CERN’s budget for Knowledge Transfer to Medical Applications, and then later scaled for wider applications in society.

We have developed BioDynaMo to simulate millions of complex interactions, whilst optimising the time it takes to run each simulation. In a way, it is designed to tackle the type of challenges as this one from Statistics Netherlands 

says Fons Rademakers, one of the founders of BioDynaMo.

Before this can be employed though, it is imperative to ensure its reliability and accuracy. Calibrating population scale agent-based models, and supplying reliable modelling tools for policy makers and planning agencies is the central focus of this collaboration.

We are very excited to explore together with Statistics Netherlands how these modelling tools from CERN can contribute to understanding challenges in society and help policy makers create a more inclusive society. It is a wonderful example of how different sciences can inspire each other and together might discover new territory

says Han Dols, Head of Business Development at CERN.

The application of this technology resonates with the UN Sustainable Development Goals to combat inequality (SDG 10), including economic inequality, in society. BioDynaMo has further scope to study the impact of COVID-19 across different socio-economic groups, and thus contribute towards devising better policy to ameliorate its effects.