Delving into new methods and techniques

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
A major conference in the world of statistics took place in Brussels from 13 to 17 March: NTTS 2017, New Techniques and Technologies for Statistics – ‘Increasing Data Relevance for All’. The conference attracted around 600 representatives from national and international statistical institutes and various universities. Hundreds of other experts followed the presentations via livestream. By using social media channels which were made available throughout the conference, participants were able to provide comments, ideas and substantive responses during the discussions. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) was actively represented by a large number of statisticians.

Exchanging knowledge and ideas

The NTTS conference is a biennial scientific conference series organised by Eurostat on new developments in statistical production, dissemination and data collection. The key focus is on exchange of knowledge and ideas among the participants. Dr Emanuele Baldacci, Chief information officer at Eurostat – the statistical office of the European Union – explains: ‘NTTS focuses on existing and new methods and techniques which can be applied in official statistics production. It also addresses opportunities arising from innovation. In a nutshell, NTTS is the place to be if you are interested in the current debate in official statistics.’


Which new emerging trends were observed during the meeting? ‘There were three main trends that emerged clearly across sessions. First, mainstreaming the use of multiple data sources for statistical production, which can significantly impact the timeliness and granularity of statistical products. To benefit from it, statistical offices have to team up to invest in data analysis projects. Second, communication of statistics is essential in the post-truth society we live in, where public opinion is less influenced by objective facts than by emotion and personal conviction. Statistical offices should learn to be proactive in addressing information needs of different users. Finally, in the era of big data and algorithms, quality of statistics is key and and statisticians have a responsibility in this area.’


Eurostat organised a hackathon as a side event to the conference, with 22 teams from many different European countries. What was the main goal of this hackathon event for Eurostat? ‘It was a terrific experience,’ Baldacci says. ‘The hackathon unleashed the power of creativity in the use of data to answer key policy questions. National teams were given the challenge to come up with innovative statistical services to assess skills allocation in labour markets, gaps and discrepancies, and emerging demands. It was great to see teams working day and night to hack different data sources sitting with their laptops in the hotel lobby. In the award ceremony Eurostat DG Mariana Kotzeva pointed out that the Hackathon is not a one-off event but a new way of working together: in teams, with a dedicated focused goal, and with a challenging issue to solve.’


Among the many NTTS participants representing Statistics Netherlands was Eric Schulte Nordholt, leader of the Census project at CBS. He gives regular lectures on this topic both at home and abroad. At the conference, he showed how CBS has carried out a project, subsidised with a Eurostat grant, to develop an imputation method (replacing missing data, ed.) which makes the existing Educational Attainment File (EAF) suitable for use in the next population census, Census 2021. ‘We used to obtain information about the highest educational attainment of the Dutch population from the Dutch Labour Force Survey (LFS). But that survey covers only 1 percent of the Dutch population. The new Educational Attainment File covers 60 percent of the population, is more detailed and of better quality.’ The project has meanwhile entered phase two, with phase one completed after one and a half years. ‘We are now going to compile tables based on the new EAF file. After this summer, we will be comparing the old and the new file. Then we will see how the new information is to be published.’ According to Schulte Nordholt, there was a lot of interest in his presentation at the NTTS conference. ‘It is very important to share ‘Best Practices’ as not every country has enough time and capital to set up all kinds of new projects.’