News 28 Jan 2021

Director General of Statistics Finland Marjo Bruun retires

Director General of Statistics Finland Marjo Bruun will retire in the end of January. She has held several international positions of trust. Starting from 2016, she has chaired the Conference of European Statisticians (CES), the statistical body of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Participation in international activities has broadened her perspective not only of the global situation but also on Finland's position among various actors in statistics.

“The activities of the CES show clearly how statistics are produced in different ways by different countries, yet all with the same ultimate goals of informing society. For example, the registers on which statistics are compiled are self-evident in Finland, but this is not the case all over the world as many countries don’t have such registers.”

Participation in the work of the CES benefits everyone involved. Finland has brought to the table its statistical expertise in many areas, and at the same time, Finns' own competence has grown in cooperation with others. Statistical offices everywhere are in the midst of efforts to modernize and to develop new methods; by working together across the region all countries can share what they have to offer and at the same time benefit from the comparative advantages of others.

“One of my greatest achievements in chairing the CES is that it has become more interactive and participatory. With a less formal setting, all the countries that take part in the annual sessions of the CES feel free to speak up and share their ideas.” 

Statistics Finland cooperates with a number of other international institutions as well. Ms Bruun sees that the EU is Statistics Finland's main forum on the international level because it acts as a legislative body where common, European issues are evaluated. The OECD, in turn, offers relevant research data that utilise statistics and can also be used in Finland. Cooperation with Nordic colleagues has also been close.

“The network of Nordic statistical actors is naturally important to us in Finland. Nordic countries have similar societies, where registers, for example, form an important basis for compilation of statistics. We have close cooperation, a Nordic family, which provides support for our own activity.” 

Looking to the surrounding society and the competitive situation

Marjo Bruun has been following the developments of the international statistical community for over ten years. The increase in the amount of information in society creates a constant pressure for official statistics offices to keep reflecting on their work and reconsidered what they do - are we answering the needs of governments, academics and the general public? How can we keep evolving to do better?

“In leading the international statistical community I have always tried to look forward and consider the needs of the surrounding society and possibilities for cooperation with others. The discussion is gradually moving on to the role of the statistical service in the information ecosystem. There are many actors producing and using information in society, which drives us to keep revisiting key questions about what statistics we produce and how we produce them. We are now in a completely different competitive position than ten years ago, and although this position is indirect, it may undermine the role of official statistics.”

The strength of official statistics rests in careful basic work. The standards and procedures agreed on through international cooperation and the statistical methods used create a framework that permits comparisons of figures between different countries. 

“The world is full of data, but unfortunately many of the data available to the public are questionable to say the least. For many figures that you can find easily online, there is no information about where they come from, what year they refer to or how they have been calculated. Official statistics, in contrast, have to meet carefully-defined quality standards and use definitions and methods that have been agreed upon internationally. In a society where the information economy plays a major role, the importance of statistical authorities lies in strong competence: in combining different data sources and in understanding what kinds of metadata are needed to make statistics easy to use.”

Information is needed faster than before

As the Covid-19 crisis began, statistical offices faced huge challenges, as new information was needed to support decision-making within a very short time frame. Statistics Finland transitioned to remote work overnight and despite exceptional circumstances, new compilations and new kinds of experimental statistics related to Covid-19 have been produced for society in addition to the regular statistical programme. 

“There is always room for improvement, but reflecting on our response to the Covid crisis we cannot say that we would have done anything differently. We have done extremely well. However, the work is still ongoing, as statistics are needed next on how to overcome the crisis from different perspectives.”

Statistical authorities are under constant pressure as accurate and reliable information is required faster than before. On the other hand, citizens’ willingness to respond to surveys has dropped continuously, and data collection is a common, global challenge. In which direction should statistics be developed in future?

“The speed of production of data and statistics is a major challenge for all statistical authorities, as seen during the Covid crisis. In an ideal world, we would get the data quickly and in the correct form, so that our statistics would be produced much faster. Another challenge is to obtain information from citizens. Data are collected from many sources and it should be possible to use them better in statistical production. Ideally, we would not have to ask people how they are doing, but we would be able to identify it from information gathered from elsewhere. As an individual area, I would also like to highlight information related to the environment and climate, which is a very large and challenging whole.” 

Marjo Bruun will retire after nearly nine years as Director General of Statistics Finland. The past years have taught confidence and demonstrated the importance of the work done at Statistics Finland. 

“In working life, I have learned over the years that it is possible to get good results using different routes. I have learned to accept that someone can do things in a completely different way and better than I thought myself. At Statistics Finland I have seen the many ways in which statistics are included in society, and that makes this work meaningful.”