Why it is important to use admin data in statistics

January 20, 2021

Fredy Rodríguez


January 20, 2021

There are enormous amounts of data that are generated every day through the activities we carry out such as financial transactions or taxes. These types of activities are known as administrative data and are reported to different organizations. They are also a source of information to monitor and achieve progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The number of records is overwhelming and their storage requires various strategies to make the most of that data. It is useful information for decision-making in different areas of the social, economic and environmental dimensions.

Administrative records have become an important data source to complement censuses or surveys. In this context, they are defined as “information collected by government or private sector organizations as part of their ongoing operations. Examples include records of births and deaths, taxation records, records about the flow of goods and people across borders, and data collected by satellites.” (Statcan, 2019).

Benefits of using administrative data in statistics

Institutions -including National Statistical Offices (NSO)-, [1] can make good use of administrative data to generate statistical information. However, it becomes necessary to prepare and review the quality of the compiled data, by making sure there is an adequate statistical consistency, and methods and processes are in place.

In this case, NSOs play a relevant role within the National Statistical System (NSS), by promoting the use of administrative records for statistical purposes and providing support to those in charge of data production during the implementation of quality attributes from the collection to the dissemination of data. Some of these attributes are:

Accessibility: There is access to the information from the registry that allows the generation of statistics or, on the contrary, there are legal or institutional restrictions that prevent sharing the information.

Consistency: The methodologies for the collection and processing of the data meet recognized standards to maintain the expected quality.

Opportunity: The data contained in the registry are updated, and there is an adequate response time and availability of the information.

It is necessary to strengthen the quality of the records so that they are used in the production of statistics. The long-term benefits are clear:

  • Costs: Generating statistical information through censuses and surveys is generally costly. For instance, the elimination of logistic costs avoided by data-based censuses, by not sending interviewers to the field to collect information on a population and housing census.
  • Opportunity: The databases are kept updated according to the information reporting parameters, allowing a constant generation of information for faster decision making. This would help, for example, the data regarding the delivery of government benefits in the Costa Rican Culture and Youth Registry System, since it would allow a characterization of cultural programs, financed projects, profile of beneficiaries, etc.
  • Complementarity: The data would complement studies based on other registries, surveys or censuses, in order to have a more detailed analysis. For example, the use of information for vital statistics in Colombia with the records of births and deaths by the health system, and the contrast that exists with the institution in charge of Civil Records.

Technical strengthening

Knowledge exchange and technical assistance to strengthen the National Statistical Systems are strategies to increase the use of administrative data to lower costs and access  data on a recurring basis. The countries with the longest experience in the use of administrative data are the Nordic countries and Canada, while in the case of Latin America are Brazil and Mexico, as they are providers of technical cooperation to other countries for the transmission of their knowledge, good practices and learning.

Costa Rica has made progress in promoting administrative data, by generating a demand for technical assistance to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between institutions and the strengthening of both technical and technological instruments for the proper treatment of information from the records. This has improved with the new Law N ° 9694 of the National Statistical System that was set in 2019, which provides a pathway to access this information.

The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data  (GPSDD) and Cepei, in their role as  promoters of capacity building, provided technical assistance to Canada Statistics (Statcan) to share the experience of this country with the National Institute of Censuses and Surveys of Costa Rica (INEC) regarding the Business Registry. Due to COVID-19, the in person visit was not possible, which is why a virtual technical assistance mechanism was established, prioritizing elementary issues for INEC.

The main achievements of the joint work between the two NSOs are reflected in:

  • Technical models for the exchange of information based on companies’ administrative data.
  • Practices for the integration of administrative records that maintain consistency.
  • Generation of scenarios for the accommodation of the information and security needed.
  • Strengthening multi-stakeholder alliances that boost the technical and administrative capacities of data ecosystem actors.

Final thoughts

Administrative data will continue to become a desired source of information to collect evidence for the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, raising awareness must be intense towards the registrars to demonstrate the benefit of taking advantage of this information and not leaving it stored, without taking into account its multiple benefits. 

[1]  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines the national statistical system (NSS) as “the set of organizations and statistical units within a country that collect, process and disseminate official statistics on behalf of the national government”.


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