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The use of ADMINISTRATIVE SOURCES FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES has become widespread. Clearly, the possibilities to use administrative sources instead of more traditional data collection depend very much on factors listed below.

The most important reasons for use of administrative data are:

  • Reduction of the response burden
  • Ensuring timely and coherent data to the users
  • Decreasing the amount of routine work at national statistical institutes

Besides the impact of using secondary data sources on the statistical process itself, there is also an impact on the methodological part of the statistical work.

There is a growing interest in developing register-based surveys. Since huge amounts of such data are generated within various administrative systems, the opportunity exists to use the data for statistical analysis without any of the costs involved in data collection. Register-based surveys require their own methodology and the development of these methods is an important challenge to statistical science. Instead of methods on how to collect data, methods for integrating data from different sources are necessary. Nearly always, data from administrative registers have to be transformed in order to make them usable for the production of statistics. 

The possibilities for compiling register-based statistics depend on a range of factors, some of which are beyond the control of statistical agencies:

  • The availability of registers
  • The content of such registers and the quality of the data contained in them
  • Access of the statistical agency to administrative registers
  • The degree of computerization of administrative registers
  • The capacity of statistical agencies to transform administrative data into statistical data

In countries where registers are unavailable, the statistical agency can only advocate their establishment. However, when registers are indeed available, it is not always easy to use them. Problems that may occur are:

  • The objects/records registered in the administrative register do not exactly meet the definition that statisticians need to use (e.g. the people registered in a register of unemployed may not exactly meet the ILO definition of unemployment)
  • The coverage of the register is incomplete
  • The register data are insufficiently checked for data quality
  • The register is not sufficiently updated

Access of the statistical agency to administrative registers may be hindered by law or by lack of legislation. Administrative registers may furthermore not be computerized and when they are computerized, the format of the data may create problems for statistical processing. And finally, the expertise of the statistical agency and its IT capacities may be insufficient for effective use of the administrative data.

Nordic countries as pioneers

The so-called Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) in particular have a long-standing experience in developments of using administrative registers for purposes of statistics production. In Finland the earliest uses of administrative data can be traced back to census collections in the eighteenth century, while modern statistical uses began in connection with the 1970 population and housing census. After two decades of systematic expansion, the 1990 census was collected exclusively from registers, without any direct data collection from the population. In several other countries of Europe, traditional censuses have also been (partly) replaced by register-based operations.

Population censuses represent a major undertaking for every statistical authority, both financially and operationally. For this reason, statistics offices in different parts of the world are seeking new, more cost-effective ways of producing the data traditionally provided by censuses to their users. Nowadays the need for census data and regional data in particular, is more frequent than once every ten years. Many countries have therefore started to conduct so-called interim censuses. However in many cases even a five-year interval is not frequent enough, for instance for regional planning needs. From a budgetary perspective there is also the problem of costs peaks every five or ten years, which complicates the task of fund allocation.

Finland is among the world pioneers in the statistical use of administrative data sources. Finnish experts have compiled a manual about this for international distribution.