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What makes official statistics trusted by users?. Heinrich Brüngger Director, Statistical Division United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Geneva. Economic Globalisation: A Challenge for Official Statistics . Joint EFTA/ECE/SSCU Seminar Kiev, 3-6 July 2007. Whose trust?.

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what makes official statistics trusted by users

What makes official statistics trusted by users?

Heinrich Brüngger

Director, Statistical Division

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Geneva

economic globalisation a challenge for official statistics

Economic Globalisation: A Challenge for Official Statistics

Joint EFTA/ECE/SSCU Seminar

Kiev, 3-6 July 2007

whose trust
Whose trust?

FP: Reference to UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics

  • Trust by the various user categories is only one element of trust
  • Other elements:
    • Trust by respondents (in exclusively statistical use and non-disclosure of unit-level information) FP6
    • Trust by budgetary authorities, esp. Parliament, that official statistics, which uses tax-payers money, provide good value for the society as a whole, and has a sound legitimacy FP1/FP5
user categories
User categories
  • Public at large (and mass media as their intermediaries) citizens’ right for information in a democracy FP1
  • Governmental and related public sector users (at national, regional and local levels) evidence-based decision making
  • Business and financial community (national and international); NGOs
  • Research community
  • Educational institutions
  • International organisations
trust by users
Trust by users
  • Trust by users can be subdivided:
    • Trust in results and products of official statistics
    • Trust in the institutions that act as producers of official statistics and in their senior management
    • Trust in the specific institutional set-up for official statistics and the respect by everybody of the legal framework for official statistics
trust in results
Trust in results
  • Relevance of outputs (including adaptation of the system to evolve and address new phenomena such as globalisation) FP 1
  • Authoritativeness of results (derived from processes and institutions, plus from coordination of dissemination process across the system) FP 8
  • Quality (timeliness, accuracy, comparability over time, space and between groups etc.) FP 5
  • Accessibility of data (including comments for non-expert users) and of metadata FP1/FP3
trust in producers of official statistics notably nso
Trust in producers of official statistics, notably NSO
  • Integrity (all FPs that address ethical behaviour and professionalism; depends on institutional framework and senior management)
  • Professional expertise of staff
  • Proven ability to meet ad hoc requests for additional tabulation
  • Transparency about methods and sources and processes of decision-making FP 3/FP 7
trust in producers ctd
Trust in producers (ctd.)
  • Networks for regular contacts with user groups FP1
  • Impartiality (perceived as being outside partisan political games) FP1
  • Adherance to international standards and internationally recognised good practices FP 9
  • NSO not being in charge of non-statistical tasks that may create conflicts of interests with impartiality or confidentiality
trust in producers ctd9
Trust in producers (ctd.)
  • System of quality management and monitoring
  • Comments by the NSO that transform released figures into information
  • Regular analytical activities by the NSO that add insights without being policy-prescriptive
  • Way to react to critics
  • Way to address and communicate errors
  • Limited but effective use of the right to react to erroneous interpretations and misuse of statistics FP4
chief statistician cs
Chief Statistician (CS)
  • For the trust in the NSO and the statistical system as a whole, personality and status of the CS is key
  • He/she personifies professionalism and integrity, especially impartiality, to users, the public, respondents and staff
  • Selection and appointment process has to reflect these particular roles and can therefore differ in certain aspects from the general process that is applicable in the government for this level
trust in institutional set up
Trust in institutional set-up
  • Specific legal framework for official statistics (statistical law)
  • Statistical law has to ensure professional independence for NSO and all other producers FP2
  • Government has to refrain from any interference into professional issues of official statistics (the « how »), and back the NSO (and other producers) against attempts of interference into professional decisions from other sides
trust in institutional set up ctd
Trust in institutional set-up (ctd.)
  • Dissemination and release process is key for independence:
    • No clearance procedure by any authority that is outside the statistical system
    • Simultaneous release for all users; no advance information for governmental users
    • Advance communication of release dates fixed by CS
    • Strict separation between comments made by the NSO and comments made by users, especially government users
trust in institutional set up ctd13
Trust in institutional set-up (ctd.)
  • Once appointed, CS has to have legal protection against threats of being fired or removed to another position during his term
  • For this reason, CS should be appointed for a fixed term of at least 4 years, irrespective of changes in governments
  • These rules have be enshrined at the level of law
  • Government has to refrain from attempts to sidestep or circumvent these protections
trust in institutional set up ctd14
Trust in institutional set-up (ctd.)
  • NSO should have the legal rigth to accept funding from other budgets than its own for certain statistical activities, including from international donors, but not in exchange of compromising on the FPs
  • As a consequence, the results of such activities have to be in the public domain
  • A Statistical Council as advisory body, composed of main users, can add credibility in monitoring compliance with FPs and ensuring relevance and adaptation to user needs
trust in official statistics 3 asymmetries
Trust in official statistics: 3 asymmetries
  • timewise: it takes a long time to build up traust and credibility, but it can be destroyed rapidly
  • throughout the national system of official statistics: the credibility of the NSO is not easily extended to other producers, but any serious misconduct in the system can undermine the trust into the system as a whole
3 asymmetries ctd
3 asymmetries (ctd.)
  • international: trust and credibility cannot be imported from neighbours, but in a closely integrated system like the ESS, any scandal affecting one member sends shock waves across the whole system (example: Greek scandal)
  • Regular reviews and global assessments of the statistical system, or of key statistics, by international peers are important for credibility, if the results are public and communicated to the government, and if gaps identified are addressed subsequently
  • Take care of your capital of trust and credibility, use all opportunities to add to this capital, but have a continuous policy of prevention against anything that might undermine it concerning all elements listed (watchdog function)
  • Have regular contacts with all user groups, and repeat explaining the role of modern official statistics to them
summary ctd
Summary (ctd.)

For users:

  • Do not judge the NSO by whether a new release supports your policy and advocacy positions, but rather by whether you would trust the results as being unbiased irrespective of your present political and other preferences, on the ground that they are produced and disseminated by institutions which credibly adhere to the international standards of official statistics