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Chief Statisticians to explore potential of new and alternative data sources for more efficient and accurate statistical production

The world is full of data. There are new, large data sources, such as smartphone records, social media usage, store purchase information from barcode scanners, satellite images. Other sources of data have been around for a long time: hospital records, vehicle registrations, border crossings, records of property sales… But national statistical offices rely on surveys and censuses to produce official national statistics, right?

Wrong. National statistical offices have for many years been exploring the possibilities for producing their statistics more efficiently, more rapidly, with less burden on respondents, and, it is hoped, more accurately, by making use of these and many other new or alternative data sources.

But producing statistics from these sources brings challenges.

On 26 June, chief statisticians at the 67th Plenary Session of the Conference of European Statisticians (CES) will share their experiences in tackling these challenges during one of the highlights of the event: a seminar on ‘new data sources: accessibility and use’, led by the United States and Switzerland.

First among the challenges they will address is getting hold of the data in the first place. Data may be available only at a very high cost from private providers, or there may be legal obstacles to obtaining access. Data stored by cross-border enterprises, in particular, can be beyond the reach of National statistical offices. Even when access is granted, how can the national statistical offices be sure that it will be maintained consistently so that they can keep producing the statistics without sudden breaks or changes?

A second challenge is what to do with the new and alternative data sources once they have been obtained. Turning a mass of data into usable, accurate statistics is what national statistical offices do best, but the way they do this is changing as the kinds of sources they use evolves. New skills are needed among staff, and recruitment needs to turn to people trained in a new range of disciplines—not only statisticians but mathematicians, programmers, data scientists. New tools are needed, and support from senior officials in statistical offices is essential to support the move towards these new techniques.

The seminar will showcase experiences and new ideas from Germany, Hungary, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, UNCTAD, UNSD, Eurostat and OECD.

The CES brings together the heads of the national statistical offices of UNECE member States, OECD member countries and beyond, including from as far afield as Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Mongolia and the Philippines. These chief national statisticians, along with statisticians from international organizations including OECD, Eurostat, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, CIS-Stat, EFTA, the European Central Bank, and a variety of UN agencies, form the governing body for statistical work in the UNECE region.

CES cooperation guides international statistical work in the region, helping countries to align their priorities, identify new and shared challenges, and work together to address them. Its work focuses on methodological guidance, modernization of statistics and capacity development, with dozens of groups of national and international experts contributing to a wide range of work in social and demographic, economic and environmental statistics and in the modernization of statistical systems.

At this year’s CES plenary session new guidelines and recommendations produced by CES expert groups will be presented to the Conference for endorsement: on satellite accounts for education and training; measuring hazardous events and disasters; leading, composite and sentiment indicators; measuring older populations in institutions; and a strategic communication framework for national statistical offices.