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Number 12 (3/2003)

Statistics as the Nation's Memory

Helena Laaksonen    

Eero Tanskanen Statistics from Statistics Finland can be seen in the media every day. Few of us ever realize that Statistics Finland also functions as a super archive preserving the information contained in national statistics forever.
- One of the key tasks of statistics production is to act as the nation's memory. People must be able to access important information decades later to study them from a new angle, says Head of Development Eero Tanskanen from the Interview and Survey Services of Statistics Finland.

Archiving and statistics

Archiving forms a central part of the process of statistics production. The documentation of statistical data must be extensive and transparent enough to enable later users to understand, for example, what a concept meant at the time and for what purpose the data was originally collected. All regularly compiled statistics, the annual data of repeated survey series and the descriptions, instructions and classifications pertaining to the creation and processing of each data set are permanently archived.

In addition to domestic information needs, many statistics are produced to fulfill international commitments. Membership in the EU and in international organizations like OECD and UN have resulted in a need to produce internationally comparable data from different fields.

The official statistics of Finland are divided into 28 subject fields, which cover the phenomena included in the UN international statistics series: population, social, economic and other statistics. In addition to Statistics Finland, about 20 other ministries and state institutions produce national statistics.

Non-response not a problem

So far, Statistics Finland has not had similar problems with non-response as the commercial research companies, even though non-response has increased slightly.
- Not having problems in this respect is probably due to the fact that we do not conduct commercial marketing or opinion surveys but collect data which describe the society. We never interview the same person more than once in five years, except in the case of panel studies, Tanskanen explains.

In fact, Tanskanen is more worried about the present increase in the number of Internet surveys which weaken the credibility of social science research.
- Internet surveys are not a feasible method for extensive population studies, but for the media any numerical data will do. Representativeness and quality issues are largely ignored, he complains

In addition to statistics, Statistics Finland produces other type of data for academic research. Tanskanen says that practically all Finnish universities have used their services.
- We have collected data for most Finnish universities. On the other hand, most academic research uses statistics as source material.

Statistics Finland offers researchers and research groups a wide range of services. The company may offer information need charting, survey planning and data collection with telephone or face-to-face interviews, mail questionnaires or with their combination. Data can also be collected from existing information sources. Results are delivered in files, tables, statistical reports or analysed reports. Survey Laboratory can test questions and questionnaire designs.

The co-operation between FSD and Statistics Finland includes, for example, the International Social Survey Programme ISSP; Statistics Finland is responsible for the data collection.

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