Skip to main content

Supporting policy with scientific evidence

We mobilise people and resources to create, curate, make sense of and use knowledge to inform policymaking across Europe.

News | 02 Feb 2022

How data innovation can improve the evidence base on migration, mobility and demographic change

The social and political significance of migration, human mobility and demographic change has increased. Migration dynamics have become more complex in an interconnected world.

The growing complexity of global human mobility as well as the urgency to respond in real-time to fast evolving situations highlight the need for reliable and timely data to inform policy decisions.

The exponential increase in the availability of data offer new opportunities to monitor human mobility, but the potential of these data sources to fill knowledge gaps linked to migration remains largely untapped.

Over the past years, researchers at the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) have been assessing how new data sources, including mobile phones, social media and satellite data, could help improve the evidence base supporting decision-making and policies linked to human mobility.

The researchers reviewed over 300 articles and scientific reports, as well as numerous tools that employ non-traditional data sources to measure mortality, fertility, migration, human mobility, population change and population distribution.

A new report on Data Innovation in Demography, Migration and Human Mobility identifies areas in which innovative data sources have the most concrete potential for policymaking.

More timely data for a fast policy response

The report finds that innovative data has the most potential to guide policy response in domains, which require situational awareness, nowcasting (describing the present situation, i.e. what is happening now), and fast response.

All the innovative data sources analysed by the researchers can provide near real-time, accurate and detailed information of mobility patterns and demographic trends at different geographical scales.

Combined with traditional data sources, innovative data can also be used for predicting, forecasting and anticipating migration flows, and for monitoring policy impact.

The Commission departments responsible for home affairs (DG HOME) and international partnerships (DG INTPA) as well the European External Action Service (EEAS) see data innovation as an important addition to the traditional data sources, which can help meet the growing need for more timely and disaggregated data.

Data innovation for policymaking – creating the right conditions

To fully unleash the potential of non-traditional data, it is important to create the right conditions to enable a transition from an exploratory phase to a phase where innovative data is systematically used in official statistics and policymaking.

A solid legislative framework governing access to data held by the private sector is a first pre-condition.

The report points to the EU’s data policy, Data Act and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as important steps facilitating data-sharing while protecting personal data and the fundamental rights of individuals.

The report also highlights the need to invest in the development of operational models and secure technical systems, to foster collaborations between data owners and public and private research organisations, and to train professionals to manage, analyse and organise data from innovative sources.