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|Title||[INTERVIEW] Data essential for 'evidence-based decisions': Statistics Korea commissioner|
Statistics can help to find right spot to start business
By Yoon Ja-young
Let's say someone wants to open a fried chicken restaurant near his home. Is it a good location to start the business? The person can get some idea by visiting the Statistical Geographic Information Service (SGIS) offered by Statistics Korea, where diverse kinds of information, such as the number of residents, whether they are in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, how each demographic group changes at certain times, and even the number of competitors in a five to 20-minute driving radius, are available.
'We will advance the SGIS, which combines statistics with geographic information system (GIS) technology to assist individuals and companies in making evidence-based decisions to initiate or operate their business,' Statistics Korea Commissioner Han Hoon said in an interview with The Korea Times.
Having served as deputy minister at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Han has witnessed how crucial statistics are in the decision making of not only policymakers but also businesses and even individuals. He says he virtually 'lived with statistics' while working as the deputy minister, a field manager of the country's internal economic policies.
On the first day of each month, for instance, he would get statistics on the previous month's exports and imports. After a couple of days comes the consumer price data and then the job market statistics come in the middle of the month. Then comes the statistics on industrial output. Statistics, including these, provide 'the concrete evidence needed in supporting the operation of the government,' he says.
His position has now changed, from a consumer of statistics to a supplier of statistics. Thanks to his experience as a consumer, he is very much aware of what consumers want from statistics and how they are used.
That's why he is very much interested in using 'experimental statistics,' produced from big data such as mobile telecommunications and credit card use.
'In the case of industrial output data, the June figure is released around the end of July. That is not fast enough when the government must urgently find out which sectors are hit by the pandemic, which requires support measures and relief fund allocations. Statistics have limitations in terms of their timeliness. As such, we aim to leverage 'experimental statistics,' using big data for more effective decision making,' he said.
The statistics agency thus purchases credit card spending data from a credit card company and releases it every week after processing it. It is useful not only for policymaking but also for businesses and anyone in the private sector who needs quickly to grasp sales trends.
'Although they may not yet be included in official statistics due to statistical accuracy issues, they are quite useful as proxy information,' Han said, adding that adapting to the changing times will be the role of Statistics Korea during his tenure.
'Creating a 'digital platform government' is one of the 120 key national tasks of the new administration in Korea. Statistics Korea will support the government by producing timely statistics and services,' he said.
Reducing data divide through ODA
Han believes such efforts will narrow down the gap between those who can afford to pay for data and those who cannot. The gap exists not only within the country but also among countries and Statistics Korea is thus helping developing countries to advance their statistical systems.
'While international organizations and major advanced countries place a greater focus on statistical system consulting, we have been extending assistance all the way to directly designing and deploying systems that best meet the needs of such developing countries,' Han said.
Statistics Korea has been expanding overseas development assistance (ODA) projects to assist developing countries in enhancing their statistical capabilities since 2012. It has supported nine countries, including Mongolia, Colombia and Tanzania in developing and deploying statistical systems, along with training for statistical capacity building. In 2022 and 2023, it plans to undertake ODA projects in Azerbaijan, Tanzania, Vietnam and Colombia.
While working at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Han was recognized in the Hall of Fame as being a role model boss. When asked what he plans with the statistics office workers, he stressed communication.
'We are an organization of 3,400 people, with regional offices around the country. To make best use of the data compiled, communication is essential,' he said, adding that he started brown bag meetings. Regardless of rank, all participants have a say there. 'I should listen to them and reflect their opinion in my decision-making. That is the crucial role of a leader,' the commissioner said.
He also encourages employees to build their expertise. 'They don't have to stick to the statistics office. If they move to the private sector with the expertise they built here, it will enhance the overall statistical competitiveness of the society, which will be good for all.'