Extracting data directly from Internet banking, financial software, or loyalty card systems, on the other hand, generates a number of difficulties related to:

  • permission from individuals to access their private records;
  • accessibility if access is required through a third-party entity (such as a bank, credit card company, or loyalty card data repository);
  • differential coverage because use of and access to such information is not universal and likely spread disproportionately within the population;
  • process complexity by having to deal with multiple interfaces and backend data systems;
  • data incompatibility when data elements from the source do not coincide with the categories and units required for the CE;
  • incongruent reference periods that differ from CE requirements;
  • data discrepancies, when internal illogical and/or missing microdata are encountered; and
  • operational challenges with data extraction, cleaning, and verification. The extracted data would need to be processed along a separate path from the CE survey data, then integrated, leading to both time delays in reporting and additional infrastructure and resources.

Microdata from households or respondents may be of greatest utility to understanding the CE if these data are utilized as reminders and memory-jogging tools to enhance the survey process and reduce recall error. Some data elements may also be able to be gleaned from electronic sources and used to replace current survey items; however, this would introduce a significant new set of processes for the extraction, cleaning, verification, and integration of these data.

In sum, use of external data sources may be of some value in a redesigned CE process. The incremental benefits would need to be closely contrasted with the real costs of infrastructure, time, and resources required. If used in a targeted and judicious manner, both aggregate and microdata from such sources could be an effective means to improve overall data quality for the CE. With this section as context, the panel proffers the following suggestions and an overall recommendation (Recommendation 6-8):

  • Identify from vendors and aggregate retail data sources appropriate for use in a five-year exploratory process that has key annual decision points based on experimentation and testing to establish the cost and measurement properties of adopting and incorporating the capture of such data in place of currently collected microdata items.

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