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Strengthening the Nation’s Data Infrastructure

The National Academies offer expert advice for federal statistical agencies and others who create, support, and use our nation’s data infrastructure

Data Infrastructure and Why It Matters

Data infrastructure refers to systems that hold, link, and support access and analysis of data. Our nation’s data infrastructure underpins our national statistics, making it a vital resource for informing decision making and public policy.

View Concepts & Terms

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    National statistics are derived from surveys and other data sources that reflect current conditions across the country and allow us to track changes over time. Although any data collection has limitations, the large scale and rigorous practices used to generate national statistics make them some of the most reliable data collections available.

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    Governments, businesses, and many types of organizations use national statistical data to inform decisions that affect daily life, our society, and our future.

    Labor market
    Health & well-being
    Food & agriculture
    City planning
    …and much more!
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    In the United States, many federal agencies collect data as part of their mission. In addition, businesses and non-profits, as well as state, local, and Tribal governments, generate data that can potentially feed into national statistics. However, there is no central body that manages it all.

    13 Principal Statistical Agencies

Credible statistical information is foundational to the functioning of democratic societies.

Toward a 21st Century National Data Infrastructure: Mobilizing Information for the Common Good

Data Sources

Many agencies are considering how new and alternative sources of data can complement traditional sample surveys. Our reports examine the opportunities and challenges.

Survey response rates, including in government surveys, have been falling, raising concerns about costs and the ability of the statistical system to rely solely on survey data in the future. In this context, nonsurvey data sources are being increasingly called on to fill the void.

Measuring Alternative Work Arrangements for Research and Policy

Using Data

Agencies are grappling with ways to responsibly incorporate different data sources into national statistics. Our reports discuss helpful strategies.

Assessing Data Quality

As agencies work to modernize data collection processes, it will be important to study the validity and reliability of new data sources and methods. Frameworks and coordination are needed to assess data quality and determine when alternative data sources are acceptable for use in producing national statistics.

Combining Multiple Sources of Data

Integrating multiple sources of survey, administrative, and private-sector data can enhance the content, timeliness, and granularity of national statistical data. However, this represents a significant undertaking and requires a systematic approach.

Strengthening Stakeholder Partnerships

Effective partnerships are foundational to facilitating access to various data sources and gaining the context necessary to assess their quality and applicability for national statistics. In addition, transparency and effective communication are vital to ensuring the responsible collection, sharing, and use of data.

Advancing Data Equity

Equity is an essential consideration for any data system. Gaps in coverage, disparities in quality, and misrepresentation can lead to inaccurate data and information. Further, people should not be harmed through the collection and dissemination of their data. A variety of approaches can enhance equity with regard to what types of data are collected, from whom, and how data are accessed, interpreted, and used.

Protecting Privacy

Privacy protection is a fundamental requirement for the nation’s data infrastructure. The usefulness of the information in the infrastructure depends upon the willingness of persons and entities to allow their data to be included. They must trust that their data will be used only for statistical purposes, and that they will not be harmed by anyone accessing their information. Data holders have a variety of technical tools and policy approaches that can be used in combination for effective management of risks of disclosure.

  • Related Reports
    • Toward a 21st Century National Data Infrastructure: Managing Privacy and Confidentiality Risks with Blended Data provides a model framework for making decisions about data protection strategies for blended data and promote careful consideration of key questions.
    • Federal Statistics, Multiple Data Sources, and Privacy Protection: Next Steps describes approaches for preserving privacy through technology, statistical methods, and administrative procedures.
    • Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency explicitly includes a principle focused on public trust and a practice devoted to respecting data providers (respondents and subjects) and protecting their data.

Charting a Path Forward

What does the data infrastructure of the future look like? What steps are needed to effectively transition our nation’s statistical systems to meet the challenges of a changing world? Our reports outline concrete steps toward closing gaps and supporting the country’s data needs.

The effectiveness of the federal statistical system to meet future data demands will largely depend on the extent to which data sources—survey and nonsurvey, national and local, public and private—can be combined in synergistic ways.

Improving Data Collection and Measurement of Complex Farms

Navigating Change

The world of data is in a state of flux. Expert reports of the National Academies offer advice on common issues facing federal statistical agencies.

Closing Gaps

Strategies for collecting data that have worked in the past are not working as well now. This creates gaps in the information collected and our ability to compare data over time. New types of data are needed to answer today’s pressing questions.

Modernizing Methods

We now live, work, learn, eat, and shop in very different ways than we did even a short time ago. How we measure those things needs to change, too. New data sources and analytical methods have great potential to modernize data collection, but it’s important to use them carefully.

Doing It Right

It is imperative to attend to privacy, ethics, and equity as we work to improve our nation’s data infrastructure. Transparency and communication are essential to fostering trust among data generators, users, and the public.