Richard Harman writes at Politik:
StatisticsNZ may seem to be one of Wellington’s more prosaic Government departments.
But in fact, it is the engine room that is powering the Government’s whole social investment programme.
And it’s at the cutting edge of some of the big issues facing the Government whether they be economic or the social implications of the sometimes uncomfortable truths that it reveals about our society.
That idea has the potential to upend parts of the banking system.
And now its Minister is talking about even more radical ideas which would seem some crucial statistics be produced in real time.
The Minister being:
But it is in Statistics that he has a chance to make a real difference.
Though he seems to like coming across as a Hawke’s Bay farmer (handy in his Tukituki electorate), Foss is, in fact, a former investment banker with a similar international career to that of John Key.
And it’s that broad business experience that meant when he got his Statistics role he asked Chief Statistician Liz MacPhersopn to imagine that Xero CEO Rod Drury was in charge and Statistics was about to be floated.
He asked her: “Would you be doing stuff differently.”
Of course, this was a hypothetical situation, and no one is contemplating privatising Statistics.
“The owners of all the data are the taxpayers; do they know it’s there, , can small businesses find it, is it useful, do you need a Ph.D. to dig it out.
“So they are absolutely turning that on its head.
“Statistics is now open by default as opposed to closed by default.”
We need other agencies to follow. All government data should be open by default, and exemptions should be rare – mainly to protect personal details.
And what is going to strengthen that data is the big digital disruption that is sweeping through Statistics.
“Fifteen months ago they were still calculating the consumers price index (CPI) by going round ships with a clipboard, counting cabbages and taking that back home, filling out a form and faxing it to Wellington.
“So now they are on Ipads, and batch doing it.
“But why are we doing that?”
He says that if Statistics had access to financial transaction by EFTPOS they could generate a real-time consumer price index.
That’s a great idea. You could track the actual prices people are paying, rather than the advertised prices at the rimes Stats NZ checks.