Tuesday, March 27, 2012

National Statistical Offices: Independent, Identical, Simultaneous Actions Thousands of Miles Apart

National Statistical Offices: Independent, Identical, Simultaneous Actions Thousands of Miles Apart
Several weeks ago, at the initiative of Brian Pink, the Australian statistician, leaders of the government statistical agencies from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States held a summit meeting to identify common challenges and share information about current initiatives.  While there had been casual sharing of partial information in previous years among these leaders, this event was unprecedented. 
The five countries share languages and some cultural features; they vary in size and in the organization of their statistical systems.  They also vary in the current health of their national economies, their regional economic foci, and key social and political issues.   None of them have population registers with mandatory updating features.  The legal frameworks of the countries’ statistical systems give different powers to the chief statistician.
While meetings of this character happen periodically in many sectors, the findings of the meeting were notable on one dimension – the five countries’ statisticians report that the strategic activities now being mounted are very nearly identical.  They perceive the same likely future challenges for central government statistical agencies, and they are making similar organizational changes to prepare for the future.  While they vary in specific current innovations, the components of the full future vision are remarkably similar.
Ingredients of the future vision:
  1. The volume of data generated outside the government statistical systems is increasing much faster than the volume of data collected by the statistical systems; almost all of these data are digitized in electronic files.
  2. As this occurs, the leaders expect that relative cost, timeliness, and effectiveness of traditional survey and census approaches of the agencies may become less attractive.
  3. Blending together multiple available data sources (administrative and other records) with traditional surveys and censuses (using paper, internet, telephone, face-to-face interviewing) to create high quality, timely statistics that tell a coherent story of economic, social and environmental progress must become a major focus of central government statistical agencies.
  4. This requires efficient record linkage capabilities, the building of master universe frames that act as core infrastructure to the blending of data sources, and the use of modern statistical modeling to combine data sources with highest accuracy.
  5. Agencies will need to develop the analytical and communication capabilities to distill insights from more integrated views of the world and impart a stronger systems view across government and private sector information.
  6. There are growing demands from researchers and policy-related organizations to analyze the micro-data collected by the agencies, to extract more information from the data.

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