Author: Sofie De Broe, Olav ten Bosch, Piet Daas, Gert Buiten, Ben Laevens, Bert Kroese
The need for timely official statistics

5. Lessons for future response to policy questions?

We can definitely draw some conclusion for the future in terms of what NSIs have learned from the covid-19 crisis. 

Urgency: even though not all policy questions are as urgent as covid-19, to some extent urgency also arises with policy questions such as the energy transition, climate and bio-diversity, labour market skills to avoid unemployment, elderly care in an ageing population. The crisis has shown that NSIs can react quickly, on the ball, and act accordingly to urgent policy questions. It is therefore crucial to keep in close communication with local and national policy makers to address their urgent information needs. 

Close interaction with users and policy makers: the need for close interaction with users and policy makers has been highlighted. The crisis also showed a great need for transparency and clarity around the figures, but also a need for the protection of privacy when it came to tracing the virus or contact behavior. The Netherlands was one of the countries  where access to mobile phone data was deemed as too privacy sensitive. A close dialogue with the public has proven crucial for NSIs to remain a trusted partner; the discussions around mobile phone data has shown that this dialogue needs to be continuous.

PoC results: official statistics adhere via the Code of Practice (European Statistical System Committee (2017) to high quality standards which are necessary for trustworthy policy making. However, high standards often (but not always) seem to be incompatible with quick (and often associated with dirty) output.   However, if circumstances ask for up to date preliminary output before final results are released and transparency is given in term of the process and analysis of the data, NSIs should not hesitate to publish even first (PoC) results. 

Information extraction: the crisis has also shown that more relevant information to address complex issues is obtained through the linkage of data sources already in-house, by publishing at different aggregate levels, different frequencies and for different categories and localities. 

Close contact with data holders: the urgency of the crisis made data holders more willing to share data and partners more open for collaboration. It is therefore of utmost importance to sustain these good working collaborations for data access, future publishing of complex policy issues which often revolve around mapping in a timely manner and at the lowest possible (privacy protected) statistical or regional level, offer and demand of skills on the labour market, economic activities, elderly care and energy. 

Ecosystems: In order to address complex policy questions, NSI will need to work even more with other public and private partners and ministries who have other data sources, knowledge and expertise; expert knowledge is necessary to provide contextual information. NSIs can learn from one another, e.g. Belgium has handed in a request for a changing the law in order to publish mortality figures more rapidly. As a non-commercial partner, NSI should be able to profile themselves better than now as a trusted partner. 

Question output and processes: the crisis has also shown that existing processes which were never questioned could be made more efficient by skipping steps or even changing laws. Similarly, different one-off official output was suddenly possible. A sustained flexibility in output would be a valuable attitude for NSIs to have. However, NSIs have an obligation to produce statistical output pre-determined by the European Commission. It should certainly be a role of the NSIs to address the need to adjust the statistical programme in terms of the changed and more complex information needs of the society. 

The digital workplace: not all organizations are able to work predominantly digital but Statistics Netherlands has shown to be very effective in continuing to produce statistics almost entirely working from home. Statistics Netherlands has also acquired a lot of expertise in setting up online conferences. This offers new opportunities and a new work life balance for the future with a lower ecological footprint for future generations.

Train quickly: obtaining the required skills for innovation remains a priority. Statistics Netherlands has organized courses offered through the Academia as online courses and has been very successfully trained data scientists from the Ministry of the Interior. Similarly it has continued to train own personnel in short courses online, a very efficient way of  offering training.