UN Big Data for Official Statistics

The statistical community has the obligation of exploring the use of new data sources, such as Big Data, to meet the expectation of the society for enhanced products and improved and more efficient ways of working. Big Data could also support the monitoring of the Post-2015 development goals by improving timeliness and relevance of indicators without compromising their impartiality and methodological soundness.

Global Working Group

Recognising the need for further investigating the benefits and challenges of Big Data for official statistics the Statistical Commission agreed at its 45th meeting in March 2014 to create the Global Working Group (GWG) on Big Data for Official Statistics.

Because of widespread and constant use of telecommunications and other devices driven by innovations in technology, digital information is continuously generated, such as data from: Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, automated teller machines, scanning devices, sensors, mobile phones, satellites and social media. The high volume, high velocity and wide variety of these data, which are commonly referred to as Big Data require new tools and methods for capturing, managing and processing them efficiently.

The potential of Big Data sources resides in the timely —and sometimes real-time —availability of large amounts of data, which are usually generated at minimal cost. However, the statistical community is conscious of the fact that before introducing Big Data into official statistics and in order to take advantage of these innovative data sources including their application to the monitoring and reporting on the sustainable development goals, it needs to adequately address issues pertaining to methodology, quality, technology, data access, legislation, privacy, management and finance, and provide adequate cost-benefit analyses.

During its first meeting on 31 October 2014, the GWG acknowledged that using Big Data for official statistics is an obligation for the statistical community based on the Fundamental Principle to meet the expectation of society for enhanced products and improved and more efficient ways of working. Furthermore, the GWG agreed to establish 8 task teams to implement its mandate on the topics of "advocacy and communication","linking Big Data and the Sustainable Development Goals", "Access and Partnerships", "Training, Skills and Capacity building", "Cross-cutting issues", "Mobile phone data", "Satellite imagery" and "Social media data". These teams have started their work and will deliver their first results by the end of 2015.

Members: Australia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Tanzania, UAE, USA, UNSD, UNECE, UNESCAP, UN Global Pulse, ITU, OECD, World Bank, Eurostat, GCC-stat

Partners: Positium, University of Pennsylvania

For more information, see the recent International Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics in Beijing.

3rd Global International Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics

30 Aug - 1 Sep 2016
Dublin, Ireland

The daily use of mobile phones and social media, as well as the routine checking of equipment, such as cars or home appliances, generate continuous streams of electronic data. These data sources, commonly referred to as Big Data, can potentially be used in the compilation of official statistics for the purpose of evidence-based decision making. The UN Statistical Commission therefore established a Global Working Group (GWG) in 2014, which was mandated to provide strategic vision, direction and coordination on the use of Big Data for Official Statistics. The GWG promotes the practical use of Big Data, capacity building and sharing experiences, while finding solutions for the associated challenges.

The GWG organized its first global conference on Big Data in Beijing in October 2014 and showcased a variety of examples of Big Data projects for official statistics, such as Mobile phone data for daytime population statistics, Satellite imagery data for agriculture statistics and Social media data for consumer confidence indicators. The second global conference took place in Abu Dhabi in October 2015, where the GWG tried to more systematically progress in the use of Big Data in the production process of official statistics.

In line with the priorities of work and with the urgent needs for support of SDG indicators, the third Global Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics wants to take the next steps in the utilization of Big Data in the production of official statistics, namely by (1) providing guidance for access to proprietary data and for successful partnerships with data owners, by (2) providing training courses on topics such as methodology, IT tools and project management related to Big Data, and by (3) supporting projects, which demonstrate the use of Big Data for official statistics, and especially for the compilation of SDG indicators.

2nd Global International Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics

20-22 October 2015
Abu Dhabi, UAE

Innovations in technology, widespread penetration of electronic devices, and the rapid rise in the use of technology for social purposes all bring fundamental changes to the availability of real-time information. Such massive, highly dynamic and weakly structured data is commonly referred to as Big Data. The statistical community officially recognized the potential of Big Data, when, in March 2014, the UN Statistical Commission established a global working group (GWG) mandated to provide strategic vision, direction and coordination of a global programme on Big Data for official statistics. The GWG promotes its practical use of Big Data, capacity building and sharing experiences, while finding solutions for the associated challenges.

On 20-22 October 2015, the second global conference on Big Data for official statistics will take place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This conference intends to take the development of Big Data one step further. Thus far, many examples of Big Data projects have been demonstrated. Now, the focus will be on lessons learned on the basis of detailed descriptions of those case studies. This is a first step towards guidance on using Big Data for Official Statistics, which can stimulate training, pilot projects and bringing pilot projects into the production environment. Therefore, the theme of the second global conference is 'moving from examples to guidelines'.

More information on the purpose and context of the conference can be found in the Concept Note. The provisional agenda shows that the conference will open with a high-level segment emphasizing the importance of timely, detailed and high quality statistics to support national policies as well as market and public research.

The opening day, 20 October 2015, also coincides with the second World Statistics Day proclaiming “Better data. Better lives.” This conveys the idea that the ultimate goal of producing high quality official statistics is to improve the lives of people and underlines the connection of data and sustainable development. This also means that we have the unique opportunity to celebrate World Statistics Day, while highlighting the benefits of Big Data for official statistics.

For more information see the event website.

Big Data Seminar at the 46th UN Statistical Commission

4 March 2015
United Nations, New York

At its 45th session last year, the Statistical Commission recognized the importance of Big Data for official statistics and established a Global Working Group to develop guidance in this area. Big Data are potentially useful for official statistics, but require new tools and methods for capturing, managing and processing them efficiently. To take full advantage of these data sources, we need to adequately address issues pertaining to methodology, quality, technology, data access, legislation, privacy, management and finance, and provide adequate cost-benefit analyses.

This lunchtime seminar will focus on the strategies developed by some national statistical offices to incorporate Big Data into the operations of the institute. They will also give examples of some Big Data projects undertaken by their offices.

The seminar is open and time will be made available for questions and answers.

For more information see the event website.

Big Data Seminar at the 44th UN Statistical Commission

22 February 2013
United Nations, New York

The theme of this year’s Friday Seminar on Emerging Issues is: “Big Data for Policy, Development and Official Statistics”. The advent of the Internet, mobile devices and other technologies has caused a fundamental change to the nature of data. Big Data has important, distinct qualities that differentiate it from “traditional” institutional data, in particular the timeliness of the data. If governments wanted to, they could already let Big Data (and the private sector) play a role in providing information on topics that are currently under the purview of national statistical offices. Should these NSOs change their business operations to take on the opportunities of using Big Data for official government purposes?

For more information see the event website.

Task Teams

  •      Access and Partnerships
  •      Advocacy and Communication
  •      Big Data and the Sustainable Development Goals
  •      Coordination
  •      Cross-cutting issues, Classifications, Frameworks
             and Taxonomy
  •      Mobile Phone Data
  •  Satellite Imagery and Geo-spatial Data
  •      Social Media Data
  •      Training, Skills and Capacity-building

Share