Better Data for Better Policy: Accessing New Data Sources for Statistics Through Data Collaboratives

Medium Blog by Stefaan Verhulst: “We live in an increasingly quantified world, one where data is driving key business decisions. Data is claimed to be the new competitive advantage. Yet, paradoxically, even as our reliance on data increases and the call for agile, data-driven policy making becomes more pronounced, many Statistical Offices are confronted with shrinking budgets and an increased demand to adjust their practices to a data age. If Statistical Offices fail to find new ways to deliver “evidence of tomorrow”, by leveraging new data sources, this could mean that public policy may be formed without access to the full range of available and relevant intelligence — as most business leaders have. At worst, a thinning evidence base and lack of rigorous data foundation could lead to errors and more “fake news,” with possibly harmful public policy implications.

While my talk was focused on the key ways data can inform and ultimately transform the full policy cycle (see full presentation here), a key premise I examined was the need to access, utilize and find insight in the vast reams of data and data expertise that exist in private hands through the creation of new kinds of public and private partnerships or “data collaboratives” to establish more agile and data-driven policy making.

Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 5.18.23 AM

Applied to statistics, such approaches have already shown promise in a number of settings and countries. Eurostat itself has, for instance, experimented together with Statistics Belgium, with leveraging call detail records provided by Proximus to document population density. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) recently launched a Center for Big Data Statistics (CBDS)in partnership with companies like Dell-EMC and Microsoft. Other National Statistics Offices (NSOs) are considering using scanner data for monitoring consumer prices (Austria); leveraging smart meter data (Canada); or using telecom data for complementing transportation statistics (Belgium). We are now living undeniably in an era of data. Much of this data is held by private corporations. The key task is thus to find a way of utilizing this data for the greater public good.

Value Proposition — and Challenges

There are several reasons to believe that public policy making and official statistics could indeed benefit from access to privately collected and held data. Among the value propositions:

  • Using private data can increase the scope and breadth and thus insights offered by available evidence for policymakers;
  • Using private data can increase the quality and credibility of existing data sets (for instance, by complementing or validating them);
  • Private data can increase the timeliness and thus relevance of often-outdated information held by statistical agencies (social media streams, for example, can provide real-time insights into public behavior); and
  • Private data can lower costs and increase other efficiencies (for example, through more sophisticated analytical methods) for statistical organizations….(More)”.