Defining Digital Economy Boundaries
The international conference ‘Digital Agenda for Statistics: Efficiency, Quality, and Openness’ was held on 14-15 November 2019 by the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) jointly with the Russian Association of Statisticians.
The paramount issue for statisticians involved in measuring the digital sphere
When a new phenomenon arises, in which the state, the public, and businesses invest significant resources, the paramount issue that statistics seeks to address is assessing its contribution to economic growth and the society’s wellbeing, noted Leonid Gokhberg. Experts at the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge proposed an operational definition: ‘digital economy is a set of activities related to the creation, dissemination, and application of digital technologies, related products and services’, and on this basis developed a methodology for calculating relevant costs.
‘As our estimates show, by the end of 2018 domestic expenditures on developing digital economy in Russia were approaching 3.8 trillion roubles. Notably, the public spends on digital economy about the same amount as businesses do,’ emphasised Leonid Gokhberg.
Detailed results of the study are presented in the publication ‘Gross Domestic Expenditures on Digital Economy Development in 2018’ (in Russian).
Digital challenges for statistics
The digital economy agenda should not be limited to development of digital technologies and creation of digital products and services, which tend to command the most attention, and remain the focus of government regulation effort in Russia and other countries, noted Leonid Gokhberg. We are talking about a much wider range of issues, such as emergence of new business models, communication channels, cultural transformation, changes in behavioural patterns and the very way of life. These new phenomena are closely intertwined with each other, and when they are measured, conventional statistical observations aimed either at households, the public, or enterprises cease to work since it is not always possible to separate digital technologies, purchases of goods and services and, e. g., business models.
Not all aspects of digital economy are suitable for statistical observation, which raises another important challenge associated with the use of new tools and new data sources. Big data is being increasingly applied for statistical purposes, generated by administrative bodies and commercial organisations (or in other words by formalised structures), as well as by informal players and platforms. To study the behaviour of digital economy actors, sociological tools are being integrated into statistical observation everywhere.
Leonid Gokhberg concluded his presentation at the panel discussion with the following question: will statistics be able to carry out its mission of producing, and presenting to the public a comprehensive, holistic, and objective model of socio-economic processes when measuring the digital economy? As follows from the participants’ speeches, so far there is no uniform ‘ruler’ for, and approaches to measuring this very new sphere, so the world’s leading statistical services continue to search for and unify definitions and develop approaches to assessing digital economy’s boundaries and dynamics.
Kim Andreasson, a World Bank consultant, Ekaterina Prokunina, Director of the Russian Central Bank’s Statistics Department, Andrey Kosarev, Deputy Chairman of the CIS Interstate Statistical Committee, Anton Kosyanenko, Director of the Russian Accounts Chamber’s Audit of Economic Development and Innovation Department, and Yuri Shokamanov, Deputy Director of the Statistics Department of the Eurasian Economic Commission took part in discussing these issues.