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Modernizing data collection enhances resilience of statistical offices in times of crisis

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A virtual UNECE workshop concludes today in which experts on surveys, censuses and alternative data collection methods have revealed their brand-new learning about the best ways to maintain core data collection, and collect newly-demanded data, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The need for statistics isn’t put on hold during a national or international crisis—in fact demand increases, as decision-makers rely on numbers to guide their next moves. National statistical offices (NSOs) are experienced in maintaining business continuity in the face of adversity, be it hurricanes, earthquakes, civil unrest or political upheaval. But never before have so many NSOs had to deal with a situation that has placed such enormous and wide-ranging restrictions on their ability to collect data. The businesses that provide economic and labour force data have been closed; the staff that conduct surveys and analyze data have been locked-down in their homes, with new staff hired and trained online; survey-takers and respondents have had to observe new and changing health protection rules such as social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment; and supply chains have been disrupted for the basic items needed to gather data, such as paper for printed questionnaires or tablets for electronic data gathering.

Maintaining essential data collection

From the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the official statistics community has recognized how crucial it is to maintain data collection. Users of official statistics, from banks to businesses and from politicians to school pupils, still expect to be able to look up basic figures such as GDP, population, migration, unemployment. They expect these figures to be reliable and comparable with those they used before the pandemic. And they expect them to reflect the new realities of the current situation, such as current unemployment and earnings figures.

Presenters in this week’s UNECE workshop outlined the lengths they have gone to to keep gathering data. In Mexico, the pandemic struck as the country’s census was underway. New social distancing rules meant some census enumerators had to call out questions to respondents through their windows. In the Netherlands, an online portal was developed and tested at speed to gather data from businesses without traditional surveys. Ireland, Italy and Poland have employed a variety of techniques to communicate with respondents to secure their vital responses to surveys, from sending postcards and handwritten notes to increased use of telephone calls. Discussions revealed that the more advanced an NSO was before the pandemic in their move towards modern modes of data collection (electronic devices, Internet responses, video interviewing and so on), the easier it was for them to make the changes required by the Covid restrictions.

Collecting new data to measure new phenomena

The world has changed in countless ways since the onset of the pandemic. Responding to these changes requires information about things that previously were not measured—or at least not by national statistical offices. NSOs have found themselves at the centre of nationwide efforts to collect, coordinate and disseminate statistics on the virus itself—cases, tests, hospital admissions, mortality rates. And new survey questions or whole new surveys have sprung up across UNECE countries to gather data about the impacts of working from home and school closures on mental health, gender-based violence and unpaid care work; the economic fallout of business closures and furloughs; and the envionmental impacts of reduced mobility and industrial activity.

Examples showcased in this week’s event included new questions on covid impacts in Finland’s Consumer Confidence Survey; and new modules in a plethora of surveys in Poland on science, technology, culture, tourism and civil society. In the United Kingdom, a Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey was developed and conducted every two weeks starting in early March.  

Long-term impacts on data collection

The UNECE programme on modernizing official statistics has for close to a decade supported countries in making a transition to using new modes of data collection, new data sources and new methods for integrating data from multiple sources. For many NSOs the pandemic has accelerated this transition, forcing the hands of cautious offices where the alternative may have been to stop collecting data altogether. The pace of change has been rapid, with one participant stating “we have had a greater impact in six months than in our whole careers so far”. While the panoply of new tools, techniques and statistical products may in time settle as the pandemic runs its course, the steps taken across the UNECE region in the direction of statistical modernization are undoubtedly permanent.

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Coding – what is it and what are the benefits?

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Coding has become more popular in recent years with everyone from entrepreneurs, hobbyists, children and professionals. And with many different kits now available, it’s easier than ever to try your hand at coding.

If you’re unsure what coding is or where to begin, read on to discover more and find out the benefits of learning this new skill.

What is coding and what is it used for?

In a nutshell, coding is writing a set of instructions in a language understood by machines to enable a computer to follow to carry out a task. It’s used daily across the world in multiple applications from appliances to traffic systems and the motor industry.

With more of the world relying heavily on digital systems, there is an increased need for those who know how to code. But it’s not just for professionals. Anyone can now try their hand at coding and it’s increasingly popular amongst hobbyists who are creating exciting projects during their spare time.

A good place to start when thinking about coding as a hobby is by using a Raspberry Pi kit. Starter kits are great for beginners and allow you to develop your coding skills with everything you need in one package.

Benefits of learning to code

Whilst some benefits of learning to code such as future career options might be obvious, there are other advantages to this skill:

  • You could become smarter – Coding can utilise the logical part of your brain which is useful for other tasks, not just the coding process. It can also be very creative if you use your coding skills to work on different projects.
  • It increases your employability – and not just in the computer software industry. Skills learnt from coding are transferrable and the kind of qualities employers across many industries will be looking for.
  • It helps you understand technology – By getting to grips with computer languages, you’ll learn how technology works at a base level – knowledge that will filter through to everyday life as well as in your career.
  • Enhance problem solving skills – By learning to code you’ll learn how to address problems and, in turn, become skilled at solving them. Tools that will be transferred to other aspects of life.
  • Coding is a universal language – so there are endless opportunities to learning this skill.  

Whatever knowledge you have of coding, why not give it a go? You could be creating the next big robotics project, having fun playing games with your kids or even developing a new software programme in no time.

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C-Suite Toolkit Helps Executives Navigate the Artificial Intelligence Landscape

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The World Economic Forum published the “AI C-Suite Toolkit” to support executives in their Artificial Intelligence implementation decision making. The toolkit provides a holistic approach to AI, covering multiple dimensions businesses need to consider when making investments in AI. Emphasis is given on potential risks these technologies create and how to ensure the ethical and responsible use of them.

“The key skill executives need to develop is the ability to understand the art of the possible with AI while identifying the main risks it creates,” said Kay Firth-Butterfield, Head of AI and Machine Learning at the World Economic Forum. Furthermore, Theos Evgeniou, Professor at INSEAD and Co-Founder of Tremau said, “Organizations need to adopt new data and AI risk management practices, processes and tools in order to both comply with upcoming regulations and to ensure customer trust”,

The new toolkit is the result of a collaboration among several AI experts and executives across companies and industries. It also builds on the previous World Economic Forum guide that’s targeted at Boards of Directors.

“AI is like the Internet: it feels optional until it’s too late. We were delighted to contribute Best Practice AI’s practical digital strategy and transformation experience working with executives globally to this world class effort. C-suite leadership is key to deliver data-enabled business model transformation – and senior management learning critical to ensure that this is done ethically and sustainably. The toolkit provides both,” said Simon Greenman, Partner at Best Practice AI and Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global AI Council

The AI C-Suite toolkit raises and discusses key questions that company executives need to consider when making investments in AI. These questions cover aspects around AI and business strategy, the impact of AI on an organization, AI maturity and organizational change, best practices for implementing AI, understanding and managing AI risks, and adoption of ethical and responsible AI practices and processes.

“With our strong expertise in manufacturing consultancy and +100 SIRI maturity assessments, we see that the foundational knowledge of AI in operationalizing the strategy is visible as a common need. Global research on the subject confirm that using AI has benefits like providing cost reduction, inventory minimization, quality increase, profit optimization, etc., and potential risks like strengthening inequalities. Creating a platform for understanding the benefits and mitigating the risks is required, especially at the executive level. With the modularity and extensive understanding of AI, this toolkit will be a reference guide for all leaders,” said Efe Erdem, MEXT Group Director & Head of C4IR Turkey. “We are excited for this toolkit to come to life and serve as a critical guideline for the industry.”

Organizations at various levels of AI maturity can benefit from the steps laid out in the AI C-Suite Toolkit to leverage AI while mitigating possible risks. “As an advisor to C-suite executives of organizations aspiring to become AI and Data-driven, we have observed firsthand how fundamental it is for leaders to understand how to make informed decisions such that their organizations can truly reap the benefits of AI in the coming years. We believe this guide will be instrumental in helping executives identify the right opportunities to solve problems using AI and overcome the challenges and barriers they will face on their journey,” said Nihar Dalmia, Canada Government and Public Services Leader, Omnia AI, Deloitte.

The toolkit states, “a culture of large volume experimentation, data-driven decision making, and ethical AI distinguishes market leaders.” The authors and contributors urge organizations to pilot this toolkit and share their learnings of using it.

“The AI C-Suite Toolkit on Empowering AI leadership is a timely report for C-suite executives as more organizations embrace AI across their enterprise,” said Anand Rao, Global Leader, Artificial Intelligence, PwC, USA. “PwC is delighted to collaborate with the World Economic Forum on this toolkit to provide a practical and operational framework to implement AI in a responsible manner. The holistic and enterprise-wide end-to-end governance will enable C-suite executives to take advantage of the benefits of AI while also addressing the societal and ethical risks.”

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The Moscow Metro extends the Early Bird campaign

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According to the Moscow Department of Transport, the Early Bird discount program has been extended until March 31. Thanks to this project, passengers can save up to 50% on fare payment for morning trips on Lines 7 and 15 of the Moscow Metro.

The Department noted that the Early Bird campaign helped to redistribute passenger flows and reduce passenger traffic of the Line 7 of the Moscow Metro, the busiest line of the network, during the peak hours. Cars on the Line 7 are now 7% freer in the morning peak hours. In addition, the crowdedness at Kitay-Gorod station has been decreased up to 18%, and Vykhino and Polezhaevskaya – up to 17%.

According to Maksim Liksutov, the Deputy Mayor of Moscow for Transport, the project has proved its effectiveness, having impacted the most popular section of the metro during peak hours. In this regard, it was decided to extend the Early Bird campaign.

«Thanks to the campaign, as well as to the adjustment of fares on Kazansky railway direction for those who travel to the railway station, cars became 7% freer in the mornings on Line 7 – we managed to relieve the load on the most popular section of the metro during rush hours. In this regard, the Mayor of Moscow decided to extend the Early Bird discount program until March 31», – said Maksim Liksutov, the Deputy Mayor of Moscow for Transport.

The project was launched in November 2020. Discounts are valid on weekdays until 07:15 and from 08:45 to 09:15 on the Moscow Metro Lines 7 and 15. About 100 thousand passengers use discounts every day. More than 5.7 thousand Moscow residents changed their daily travel time to off-peak. By the end of 2021, passengers have made more than 25 million discounted trips.

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