Fourth Data Hui

Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 11:08

Good morning.

It is a pleasure to be here at the Fourth Data Hui.  As Minister of Statistics, I see these event as a golden opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities we all face in the modern data environment.

I often talk about the magic of statistics.  To me, that means data and statistics have the power to inform and enhance many areas of our lives, helping NGOs, businesses and government make better decisions.

When I became Minister of Statistics two years ago, I posed a question: If Statistics NZ was to be floated on the sharemarket, would it be doing things differently?

I am glad to say Government Statistician Liz MacPherson and her team took this idea and ran with it. Ever since, we have been working to position Statistics NZ as a centre for excellence, or the ‘Treasury of Data’.

Statistics NZ is responsible for leading and guiding government data use and helping manage its data assets.

The Government is committed to ‘open data’ and moving to an ‘open by default’ model. Open data is a key indicator of a country’s innovation, transparency and lack of corruption.

I am pleased to say the World Wide Web Foundation ranks New Zealand fourth out of 86 countries for its open access to government data.  We are, of course, eyeing the top spot.

New Zealand scored highly for the release of map and land ownership data, as well as statistics about the census, budget, international trade and crime.

Statistics NZ’s catalogue of infographics is an excellent, readily accessible, easily digestible example of both the data it releases and the way in which it can add value to many areas. I encourage you all to look these up on the Statistics NZ website by searching ‘infographics’.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of all Statistics NZ staff following the massive 7.8 magnitude quake just over a week ago.

The team has worked tirelessly to get the website back up and running and the release schedule back on track.

I was able to visit ‘recovery HQ’ at the Greek Community Centre last week, and was blown away by the willingness to pull together and innovate to get the job done. Thank you Liz, thank you to all her staff and thank you to all those in the community who provided support.

Statistics NZ is focused on creating products and services that better meet the needs of modern customers. There were more than 2.6 million unique visits to its website last year and its information centre responded to more than 12,000 enquiries.

Statistics NZ also filled 1142 customised data requests — requests for more complex information.

Collecting information:

I spend a lot of time speaking to small businesses and advisory groups in my role as Minister for Small Business.

One message I hear over and over again, loud and clear, is that businesses want the Government to get out of their way and let them get on with the business of being in business.

The Government has set officials 10 deliberately challenging, measurable and specific targets to improve public services to New Zealanders. One of these areas is the Result 9, or Better for Business programme. Result 9 focuses on supporting business growth by reducing red tape.

Statistics NZ is contributing toward Result 9 with two initiatives:

  • Deciding with data — business information that is easy to find and use; and
  • Data supply — reducing the number of businesses surveyed and the amount of information requested.

Data supply involves reducing the number of Statistics NZ surveys businesses need to complete by using existing data sources, asking fewer questions, and making it easier to fill in surveys by moving them online.

Late last year, I welcomed changes to the way Statistics NZ collects manufacturing, wholesale trade and services information.  An improved survey design means the number of businesses required to complete the survey has halved — from 1800 to 900.

Statistics NZ has set itself an ambitious target to move all its business surveys online by 2018.  A move I know many will welcome.

The agency is also working to better connect information across government. Administrative data — information collected from other agencies such as Inland Revenue — is becoming a central feature of operations. This means a change from surveying and collecting data to more linked and integrated datasets.

By bringing together information from a range of sources, we build a richer picture of society and increase the power and value of data.

However, collecting statistics means nothing if you, the taxpayer, cannot enjoy the benefits. How does a plumber from Masterton with nine staff benefit?  What is in it for him or her? As a taxpayer, that plumber has already paid for those statistics, and as a small business owner, they have probably contributed data through business surveys.

I am pleased to say both Statistics NZ and the small business team at MBIE are moving to ensure statistics are relevant and accessible to a wider range of different users.

A great example of this is the Taking Care of Business roadshow — a series of 21 events to help small business owners engage with government agencies more effectively and efficiently.

Statistics NZ has been a key contributor at each event, from Invercargill to Whangarei, promoting tools and products that actually help my mythical Masterton plumber, or anyone looking to start a new business.

Māori business is a vital part of our economy and many iwi are important investors and business operators.

The Statistics NZ Tatauranga Umanga Māori report, which came out in the middle of this year, shows smaller Maori businesses are innovating and expanding to dozens of countries around the world.

The report looks at the performance of 600 small and medium-sized Māori businesses and show that, despite their relatively small individual size, these businesses reeled in exports worth $44 million in 2015, up 15 per cent on the previous year.

Their collective sales reached 53 countries, as far away as Cameroon, the United Kingdom and China, as well as traditional markets such as Australia, where Māori export trade dates back to the 1820s.

The Government, and no doubt businesses owners themselves, would love to replicate this success throughout the sector.  And, as Taking Care of Business has demonstrated, the Government can assist with a variety of information, tools and resources, including many from Statistics NZ.


Statistics NZ is involved in a number of partnerships with external groups — government agencies, local government, businesses, media and Māori organisations.

Later this morning, Liz will provide more detail about some of the Pilot Partnership Projects, or PPPs.  But briefly, these projects are a new way for Statistics NZ to work collaboratively with iwi, Māori, Pasifika, and NGOs on real world issues, using the lessons learned to help develop new, relevant, and innovative products and services.  These partnerships help make more data available to more people and organisations.

One of Statistics NZ’s newest partnerships is with Waiora Pacific, a technology company founded by Mike Taitoko, who has been described as “one of New Zealand’s leading advisors on Māori economic development”.

Waiora Pacific is a technology company commercialising geospatial internet-based analytics services. Simply, the idea is to take lots of information and create visual displays and tools to help people make more-informed decisions.

Statistics NZ has agreed to be a key data partner to aid in populating the Takiwa platform

— Waiora Pacific’s lead product for iwi. This New Zealand-made innovation presents data in a way that is both easy to access and understand. 

Other important partnerships show how different parts of government are working together. For example, the Productivity Hub is a partnership of agencies looking at how policies can help lift New Zealand’s productivity, and so boost the economy and well-being of all New Zealanders.

Productivity is about taking our resources and turning them into things we can sell, both goods and services. The more productive we are as people and businesses, the more we prosper.

The IDI-Integrated Data Infrastructure:

Statistics NZ’s Integrated Data Infrastructure, or IDI, is something I am incredibly passionate about — it’s a game-changer. And it feeds directly into the Government’s social investment approach — using big data to better target spending and get more bang for bucks. 

The social investment approach is primarily about using data to find where, how and for whom we can make the biggest difference. Statistics NZ is a big part of this, not only through the IDI, but through all the other data it holds and its years of experience and expertise in collecting quality data.

The IDI gives researchers — public and private — the tools to investigate relevant, real-world questions and/or problems. 

So, what exactly is the IDI?

Everyone here today is likely familiar with the IDI, but I will give a brief overview.

The IDI pulls together information about people, households and businesses from across the public sector, and combines it with things like census and other Statistics NZ survey information.

It includes tax, education, and welfare benefits data, as well as information on migration, crime and health.  That’s where the real power lies — the more data we have from a wide variety of sources, the more we can hone in on the real statistical gems.

Te Kupenga — New Zealand’s first survey of Maori wellbeing — is a great example. 

Te Kupenga

In 2013, Te Kupenga collected information on a wide range of topics to give an overall picture of the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of Māori in New Zealand. The survey also provided valuable data about the health of the Māori language and culture.

I am pleased to say that planning is well advanced for the next Māori Social Survey in 2018.

There are more than 50 IDI-based research projects today — some completed and some in the pipeline. The IDI’s popularity, even in these early stages, shows the massive value in taking information we already have and enriching it further by matching it with something else.

Security of the IDI

While the IDI is a powerful tool, we are very careful about who uses it and how they use it. Researchers and academics can only access the IDI if they have acceptable research questions and partner with an approved research organisation, such as economics group Motu, a university, or government agency such as MBIE or MSD.

Is the information safe?

To be clear, the IDI has confidentiality and privacy rules, and outputs cannot be used to identify individuals. Strict security rules are also in place and there has never been a privacy breach — Statistics NZ and I want to keep it that way.

While we are careful about who uses the IDI, it is, as I mentioned, important to expand the information available in it.

Auckland City Mission recently became the first agency outside government to have its data included in IDI.  This is an important partnership and I hope others will follow its lead.

Other recent additions to the data vault include driver licence and motor vehicle register details from the New Zealand Transport Agency.

As Associate Transport Minister, I am very keen for this particular data set to be cross referenced and analysed.   It has the potential to help government understand, for example, the impact licencing has on employment — particularly for young people and low-skilled adults.

The IDI can also be used to better understand the effects of lifestyle on health.

Researchers currently have a proposal to study the health impacts of playing rugby and how injuries such as concussion affect players.

The project is primarily about quantifying the health impact on any individual playing at any level of the game, from social to professional.

Researchers will look at length and quality of life, changes in the rate of incidence, and the age of onset of various diseases.

For example, New Zealand Rugby will use data to compare rates of dementia among top-level players in New Zealand between 1950 and 1970, with the rates of those who did not play rugby.  This is the first research application of its kind for Statistics NZ, and the value in it is clear.

The IDI clearly enables detailed research that until now has just not been possible.

The challenge for you here today is to think about the kind of questions that could be posed — and potentially answered — with the use of the IDI.

As I mentioned at the start, the modern data environment presents both challenges and opportunities.

I acknowledge the different expectations, capabilities and understanding of the shared data environment, but I am confident Government, NGOs and others can work together for not only their own benefit, but the benefit of all New Zealanders.

This is about working more effectively and efficiently to lift our collective well-being through better and more informed decisions, made using reliable data.

Thank you for being here, for taking part, and allowing us all to work together.