Al Kags

Administrative Data and the end of Government Statistics as we know it?


On the sidelines of the UN Statistical Commission meeting in New York, at the Collaborative on Administrative Data for Statistics, I saw the government of the future coming ever closer and faster. Here is my prediction.

Yesterday, I attended a lunch meeting on the Collaborative on the Use of Administrative Data for Statistics, led by the UN Statistics Division and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. The collaborative was created to respond to the “urgent need to strengthen the capacity of national statistical systems to leverage the use of administrative data for statistical purposes and to fill gaps in the data available to policy and decision-makers to monitor progress and implement the 2030 Agenda.”

I listened with interest as some of their partners, including the Dominican Republic, Bhutan, Norway and others, recount how they were building systems to incorporate administrative data in their national statistical systems. I also listened to several organisations, including, UN Women, UNDP and several others discussing the initiatives they have done.

Value of Administrative Data

Administrative Data is an instrumental contributor to statistics in a country, mainly as it provides in-depth insight towards achieving development objectives. Governments and other providers, like hospitals, collect this data as a common factor, making it much more cost-effective than the specialised surveys collected. From tracking absenteeism in schools, incidences in hospitals, reports in police stations to observing the delivery of agricultural extension services, and daily revenues, administrative data allows for more effective and timely decision-making.

Recently I was in a county in Kenya, meeting with a County Executive Member (essentially minister) for Health, when she received a call that a case of TB had been diagnosed in one of the counties. That alert triggered the government to test all students in the school that week for TB lest more infections needed to be dealt with swiftly. To my mind, this is the power of administrative data.

Challenges & Obstacles

As I listened to the various collaborative members share their interventions, numerous challenges were called to mind, that hindered the swift institutionalisation of the administrative data across all countries and context. My inexhaustive list of these challenges includes:

  • There is a lack of a broad general understanding of the process of using data for decision-making – especially among decision-makers themselves. Administrative data is contextual, and in many instances, it is common to see elected leaders having reduced capacity to use data to set directions for their departments.
  • The general closed nature of managing statistical systems in most countries has slowed innovations in statistics, and the area has remained elitist – even somewhat snobbish. Happily, with the progress that the collaborative is making and through the work of GPSDD, bringing multiple stakeholders to the table, there is increased openness in the process.
  • Related to that is the fact that there has been a lack of trust between national statistical offices and the producers and users of data (more starkly if they are non-government).
  • There is a real opportunity for governments – especially subnational governments to agree on definitions, registers and indicators according to the party that needs them. The needs and context of a national statistical office and its direct clients, the national government, would be significantly different from the needs of a subnational government, which sits much closer to the citizens.
  • A challenge in using administrative data for research purposes is that it is collected primarily to track beneficiaries of government policies and the general population, not for research purposes. As former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, notes, “research teams should aim to use administrative data in addition to other sources of data to create sector-specific and country-specific outputs that are relevant to a particular policy context.”
  • Moreover, administrative data can potentially address gender data gaps in subnational governments. “There can be no quality data without gender data,” said Papa Seck, UN Women’s Chief of Research and Data section.

How administrative data will change government #inTenYears

I asked the panellists at the event a 30,000ft question. I asked them to consider what significant changes they expect to see in the next 10 years, given the rapid technological advances. They all responded conservatively, all doubting that there shall be major disruptions to the survey and census models of statistics management. This, I vehemently disagree with and I stand on my soapbox here to make some wild predictions.

Governments around the world are facing significant challenges as new technologies continue to transform the world. One of the most significant developments in recent years has been the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to revolutionize public service delivery and regulatory enforcement.

As AI technology advances, the availability of administrative data and robust predictive technologies will likely render traditional data collection methods, such as surveys and censuses, obsolete. I think this will happen in the next ten years.AN AL KAGS PREDICTION #InTENYEARS

Instead, governments will be able to leverage blockchain technology to store and share administrative data securely and transparently. This will provide unprecedented access to vast real-time data stores, enabling governments to be more responsive to citizens’ needs and preferences, and tailor public services to meet specific community needs.

Moreover, blockchain technologies have the potential to revolutionise public service delivery by making it more efficient and secure. For instance, blockchain will be used to develop smart contracts, enabling secure, automated transactions that will eliminate the need for intermediaries and reduce costs. Additionally, blockchain-based voting systems can make elections more transparent, secure, and tamper-proof, enhancing public trust in democratic processes.

The impact of open government

The move towards open data and transparency is another trend shaping the government’s future. As governments continue to open up their data sets to the public, it becomes easier for citizens to access and analyse government data. This trend is likely to continue, as governments recognise the benefits of making data more accessible and transparent.

To further enhance administrative data sharing, governments are likely to collaborate more closely with private sector companies that are developing innovative technologies. For instance, public-private partnerships could develop data analytics tools and platforms to facilitate the exchange of data across different sectors and jurisdictions, enhancing public service delivery and policymaking.

In addition, the emergence of blockchain technologies is likely to lead to new innovations that will strengthen public services and administrative data sharing. For instance, blockchain-based identity verification systems could help governments eliminate the need for manual identity checks, speeding up public service delivery and reducing fraud.

As the production and use of administrative data and citizen-generated data grow and is made open, with the support of technology, I think that a significant disruption in the management of official statistics is in the offing and I think the people in the room yesterday will be some of that revolution’s supervisors.

I hope this and many other discussions will be happening at the Data Festival in Uruguay in November 2023.

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