Statistical organisations around the world are coming under increasing pressure to improve the efficiency of the statistical production process, and particularly to make savings in costs and staff resources. At the same time, there are growing political demands to reduce the burden placed on the respondents to statistical surveys. This is particularly the case where respondents are businesses, as many governments see reducing bureaucracy as a key measure to support and promote business development.
Given these pressures, statisticians are increasingly being forced to consider alternatives to the traditional survey approach as a way of gathering data. Perhaps the most obvious answer is to see if usable data already exist elsewhere. Many nonstatistical organisations collect data in various forms, and although these data are rarely direct substitutes for those collected via statistical surveys, they often offer possibilities, sometimes through the combination of multiple sources, to replace, fully or partially, direct statistical data collection.
Administrative sources have traditionally been defined as collections of data held by other parts of government, collected and used for the purposes of administering taxes, benefits or services. Perhaps the most comprehensive of the traditional definitions was set out by Gordon Brackstone of Statistics Canada in his 1987 paper “Statistical Issues of Administrative Data: Issues and Challenges” . Brackstone identified four distinguishing features of administrative data:
1. The agent that supplies the data to the statistical agency and the unit to which the data relate are different (in contrast to most statistical surveys);
2. The data were originally collected for a definite non-statistical purpose that might affect the treatment of the source unit;
3. Complete coverage of the target population is the aim;
4. Control of the methods by which the administrative data are collected and processed rests with the administrative agency.
The degree of use of administrative sources in the statistical production process varies considerably from country to country, from those that have developed fully functioning register-based statistical systems, to those that are just starting to consider this approach. Although several subject specific texts exist, there have, until now, been no general, international methodological guidelines to help those in the early stages of using administrative data. This handbook aims to fill that gap. It builds on material developed over ten years in the context of an international training course on the use of administrative sources for statistical purposes. That course had at the time of publication of this handbook been delivered over ten times, to audiences of official statisticians from throughout Europe, Western and Central Asia, and North Africa. Each of these times that the course had been run, it had been improved and enhanced by sharing experiences with, and receiving feedback from participants. It has also benefited greatly from the input of various expert guest presenters from Statistics Finland and the British Office for National Statistics.
Custodian: United Nations Economic Commission for Europe - UNECE
 Brackstone G J: "Statistical Issues of Administrative Data: Issues and Challenges", in "Statistical Uses of Administrative Data -An International Symposium", organised by Statistics Canada, 23-25 November 1987 (Proceedings published by Statistics Canada, Ottawa, December 1988).