Use of Registers and Administrative Data Sources for Statistical Purposes
Best Practices of Statistics Finland

Statistics Finland, like its sister agencies in the other Nordic countries, has for decades been working to develop the use of 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. At the same time as census collection methods were developed, the statistical use of administrative data sources first expanded on the side of demographic and social statistics and eventually to business statistics. Today, in keeping with the requirements of the Statistics Act, registers and administrative records are the main source of data collection for Statistics Finland.

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 peaking every five or ten years, which very much complicates the task of fund allocation.

Also in Finland, the above factors were the main reason why after the 1980 census a systematic search began, at the behest of the Ministry of Finance, for more economical approaches to producing census data. The obvious starting-point for a more cost-effective census approach in Finland was to use administrative data records.

Finland is among the world pioneers in the statistical use of administrative data sources, and Finnish experts therefore are very much in demand on the international seminar, training and conference circuit, particularly on the subject of register-based census systems. There exists by now quite an abundance of material on the use of register sources that might have wider interest and application. As various countries are continuing their efforts to facilitate the use of administrative sources in statistics production, especially with a view to the 2010 population and housing census, we thought it might be useful to compile our best practices into a manual for international distribution. Because of the contributors' background the main focus of this manual is on the register use in demographic and social statistics, but a brief discussion is also included on the use of administrative records in compiling business statistics.

We hope that this manual proves useful to experts in countries that are looking to promote the use of administrative records for statistical purposes. All comments about this manual are most welcome. We are well aware of the particular circumstances that make register-based statistics feasible in the Nordic countries and that it may be assumed will never be reached in many other countries. However, we believe that many countries could make more extensive use of the administrative data that are produced in various administrative contexts - and that nowadays are usually available in electronic format as well.

This volume has been edited by Pekka Myrskylä, Senior Adviser at Statistics Finland, who has extensive experience in various aspects of population and housing census. Many others have also contributed with descriptions of the use of administrative data records and useful comments. I would like to thank all who have been involved in compiling and editing this material. Special thanks go to Pekka Ruotsalainen, Planning Officer (Chapter 7.2.1.), Salme Kiiski, Head of Statistics (Chapter 7.2.2.), Tuula Viitaharju, Head of Statistics (Chapter 7.2.3.), Kari Molnar, Director, Prices and Wages (Chapter 7.2.4.), and other Statistics Finland's employees mentioned in the list of references as well as to Director-General Heli Jeskanen-Sundström and Statistics Finland's other directors who have given their valuable comments to the texts. Thanks are also due to Translators David Kivinen and Mia Kilpiö.

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Helsinki, September 2004

Riitta Harala
Director, Population Statistics

Editor: Pekka Myrskylä

Last update 19.10.2004

Contact information:
Pekka Myrskylä
Tel: +358 9 1734 3555

Last updated 20.10.2011