ISI 2017: Focus on statistical innovations

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
What sort of ethical issues arise from Big Data? What is the role of webscrapers in data collection for the compilation of official statistics? Which indicators are relevant in policy making? These and many other topics were discussed during the 61st ISI World Statistics Congress (WSC), held 16-21 July 2017 in Marrakech, Morocco. Around 3,000 attendants representing the statistical, academic and business communities exchanged views on the latest developments in the content and the methodology of statistics. Among the attendants was a Statistics Netherlands (CBS) delegation.


In Marrakech, CBS methodologists Mark van der Loo and Nino Mushkudiani met with representatives from the global statistical community (including 148 statistical agencies), Eurostat, the OECD, the IMF, the World Bank and a number of universities. Van der Loo: ‘The size and scope of this ISI congress was such that it could easily be referred to as six congresses all in one, with 3,000 participants and 20 daily parallel sessions.’ Mushkudiani attended the ISI congress four years ago as well, and she is as enthusiastic as ever: ‘This conference is tremendously motivating. You normally sit behind your desk every day working out ideas, but then, for a whole week, you can share your research results directly with a large group of interested researchers.’

Plenty of discussion

At the WSC, both Van der Loo and Mushkudiani delivered scientific sessions. Van der Loo: ‘My session focused on open source software which may be used by the various statistical offices in areas such as seasonal adjustment, imputation and webscraping. The meeting room was packed, the audience asked lots of questions and there was plenty of discussion.’ In addition, Van der Loo presented CBS’ new data architecture, a currently ongoing project. The architecture is being developed to provide support in such programmes as CBS’ in-house Urban Data Center (UDC) concept. This concept involves a number of major municipalities, each combining forces with CBS in the areas of data infrastructure, data processing and privacy. One other topic featured by Van der Loo was the CBS Centre for Big Data Statistics (CBDS), which was established in September 2016 and involves national and international stakeholders from the public and private sectors, science and education, all working together in the development of big data technology and big data methods used in official statistics production. ‘In these areas, CBS is leading the way,’ Van der Loo explains.

New knowledge

Mushkudiani delivered a scientific session presenting the progress made in the compilation of the National Accounts, in particular the integration and harmonisation of large volumes of data. ‘I included the technique which is used by CBS to solve inconsistencies in large number of data at macroeconomic level. CBS and Statistics Canada were among the first statistics bureaus worldwide to implement this method, and other bureaus are now following our example.’ Both CBS experts were also present at various other scientific sessions to gain new knowledge. Van der Loo, for example, participated in a session about causal event graphs, while Mushkudiani explored the ethical sides of big data and the various applications of Bayesian techniques and methods. The latter topic was also included in a session presented by CBS colleague Barry Schouten on adaptive surveys, to which Mushkudiani contributed. The CBS delegation had the opportunity not only to acquire new knowledge but also to meet statisticians from around the world and join in new networking: ‘Everyone who is important in the world of statistics is there, so it is an opportunity to meet everyone and share a great deal of knowledge and experiences’, Van der Loo adds.

About the International Statistical Institute
The International Statistical Institute (ISI) is an international non-profit, non-government organisation offering memberships to statistical bureaus, academic institutions and public or private enterprises, as well as accommodating individual members. There are altogether more than 4,500 currently listed members. The organisation was formally founded in 1885 with a view to making statistics internationally comparable. Now, after 130 years, this is still an important objective.