International conference on Big Data was held in Sofia

The National Statistical Institute hosted and co-organised, together with Statistics Belgium, an international conference at which the results of the ESSnet Big Data project were presented. NSI President Sergey Tsvetarsky, Acting Director-General of Eurostat Mariana Kotzeva, Director-General of Statistics Netherlands Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi, and project coordinator Peter Struijs participated in the event, which took place on 23 - 24 February 2017 in Sofia.

During the conference participants discussed the results of the different work packages included in the current first grant agreement (SGA-I) with all European participating countries, interested experts, representatives of Eurostat, the European Commission, international organisations, the scientific community, and businesses in Bulgaria.

The closing session of the seminar was devoted to a broad discussion on the influence of Big Data on official statistics and the future of the European Statistical System. During the discussion the President of the NSI Sergey Tsvetarsky noted that many issues related to the implementation of Big Data in official statistics still remained unclear, adding that new legislation and improved access to data from all Big Data source owners would be needed. He underlined that in the context of new data sources the job of a “traditional statistician” would evolve to a more methodology-oriented one with a focus on quality assessment and validation. This will make statisticians’ tasks more interesting and challenging and will increase NSI experts’ motivation and skills.

Mariana Kotzeva, Acting Director-General of Eurostat, emphasized that discussions on the use of Big Data in official statistics should continue at a high level with regard to cross-cutting issues (legislation, data access, partnerships, results dissemination, etc.) and that future steps in establishing “smart statistics” should be considered. She urged participants to use all possible mechanisms for securing financing, studying the potential legal instruments, and stimulating the exchange of best practices and active cooperation in the framework of the European Statistical System and with other stakeholders. A change in thinking and human capital skills is a necessary precondition for the successful experiments with and implementation of Big Data.

The Director General of Statistics Netherlands Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi delivered a keynote speech on the topic “Changing gears: NSIs in the age of Big data”. He opined that the use of Big Data in the statistical practice was still in the phase of research and development and that the results obtained so far were experimental products. At the same time, it is absolutely essential to combine traditional statistical surveys with Big Data sources and administrative data, and the entire statistical community should be involved in the process.

In addition, the second grant agreement (SGA-II) which will have a duration of 17 months (from January 2017 to May 2018) was presented during the event.