IMF Supports New Strategy for Data and Statistics in Digital Age
The paper – which lays out the Fund’s first-ever overarching strategy on data and statistics – comes at a critical time, amid a fast-changing data landscape, new data needs for evolving surveillance priorities, and calls from across the membership for assistance in further improving the quality of economic data.
“The strategy focuses on three “I”s: integration, innovation, and intelligence,” said Louis Marc Ducharme, chair of the working group behind the report and head of the IMF Statistics Department. “Integration by bringing into alignment fragmented initiatives.Innovation by working to take advantage of Big Data. And intelligence by leveraging artificial intelligence for analyzing data and statistics.”
The strategy encompasses six priorities: (i) agility in the identification of data needs; (ii) building the global data commons—an integrated network of member country websites publishing data essential for surveillance on a pre-announced schedule; (iii) supporting the use of Big Data and other innovations; (iv) securing seamless access and sharing of data within the Fund; (v) promoting the production of data that are comparable across countries; and (vi) addressing weaknesses in official data.
Executive Board Assessment
Executive Directors welcomed the overarching strategy for data and statistics at the Fund. They noted that the strategy, which recognizes data as a strategic institutional asset, is both ambitious and pragmatic in setting a course to enable the Fund and its members to better respond to the challenges and opportunities of digitalization. The approach builds on the findings of the 2016 IEO report on data at the Fund, and is an important step forward in strengthening the linkage between data issues and other upcoming policy reviews.
Directors noted that while generating new opportunities, the new data landscape also poses challenges. They concurred that, with surveillance priorities evolving, the need to analyze larger and more heterogenous amounts of data will require expanding the skills of staff. Directors emphasized that the expansion of the digital economy requires updating the methodologies and technology underpinning macroeconomic statistics. They agreed that the conduct of multilateral and macro-financial surveillance requires more cross-country comparable data and integrating new data sources.
Directors agreed with a major objective of the overarching strategy to integrate work streams on data provision by member countries, international statistical standards, capacity development, and data management. They supported the emphasis on innovation, including the potential for leveraging artificial intelligence in analyzing data and supporting member countries in the production of official statistics. Close engagement with the authorities on the benefits and potential resource and capacity requirements to implement the strategy was encouraged.
Directors welcomed the six strategic priorities, most notably, an integrated approach to prioritizing the Fund’s evolving data needs. They supported the vision for establishing a global data common—an integrated cloud-based network of country websites publishing key data needed by the Fund and markets to monitor economic conditions and policies.
Establishment of this framework is expected to decrease the burden of the authorities on data dissemination and provision, and publication of such data would serve as a public good supporting data transparency for the benefit of policy makers, investors, and the public. In this regard, Directors encouraged staff to explore possible synergies with other international organizations that receive and disseminate similar data.
Directors saw merit in exploring the use of Big Data to support earlier detection of risks and to complement the compilation of official statistics. While the effective use of Big Data is subject to several challenges, it also offers the potential for better understanding market developments, risks, and vulnerabilities. Directors noted that, in the absence of internationally accepted standards, exercising quality assurance will be necessary to ensure the sound use of Big Data, taking into account reliability and privacy concerns. In this connection, they recognized that the Fund could play a key role in facilitating peer learning across the membership.
On data management, Directors agreed that the nature of Fund activities requires accommodation of data diversity. Nonetheless, they saw scope to reduce duplication and increase efficiency. They agreed that the new governance structure, including the decision to move the Economic Data Team to the Statistics Department, will help simplify organization, increase synergies, and pool expertise. Directors attached high importance to promoting the compilation of data that are comparable across countries to support robust multi-country analyses and projections. Enhancing staff incentives with respect to data management functions could also strengthen implementation.