Official Statistics * an introduction and overview

Official Statistics – an
introduction and overview
Paul Allin, CStat, FRSA
Visiting Professor and former director of
Measuring National Wellbeing Programme,
UK Office for National Statistics
We will cover
What are official statistics and why have them?
Key features of official statistics
(Very) brief history of official statistics
Main areas of official statistics
Producing official statistics – statistical value
• Main sources of data, especially censuses and
• Interacting with users – policy makers and public
What are official statistics?
• For this purpose, all statistics produced by government
departments, devolved governments, national statistics
office (ONS in UK), but not local authorities, public utilities
• Constitutional position varies from country to country. UK
got statistical legislation relatively late (2007 Statistics and
Registration Services Act ,
short guide here
• Examples : population counts, national economic accounts,
consumer prices index
“Statistics are the mirror through
which we view society”
David Hand: President of the Royal Statistical
Society, 22.02.10
Sometimes contested!
• Never mind the figures, the economy is
‘healing’: minister (Observer, 7 Oct 2012)
• “I don’t think anybody in America looks at the
[unemployment] number ... and thinks that’s
a real reflection of reality” (Peggy Noonan, Wall Street
Journal, quoted in New Statesman, 12-18 Oct 2012)
UK Office for National Statistics
ONS: other website features
Let’s visit the Afghan Central Statistics
• “Statistics is a new thing for most people in
Afghanistan. They don’t feel it’s a need, a
necessity” – head of CSO
• “The first step is to admit just how bad and
conflicting many of the data now being used
really are” – Centre for Strategic and International
Studies paper
• “We don’t ask for ethnicity or language spoken,
this is on purpose” – head of UN Population Fund
in Afghanistan, supporting first census since 1979
Afghan CSO – the issue
• It is hard to overstate how few reliable
numbers there are about population or
anything else in Afghanistan, or what a
problem this is for those trying to bolster the
economy, distribute aid, decide where clinics
should be built or how many teachers
recruited, or do any other kind of long-term
planning. (The Guardian, 04.01.13)
Why official statistics?
• Statistics for government and for the public good
(including to assess performance of government)
– Independent and seen to be independent
– Observed tendency to focus on government statistical
– Differences between and commonality across the two
– How to deliver both roles efficiently and effectively?
Eg New Public Management and Public Value Theory
Towards some fundamental principles
• Needs for official statistical information
• Need for trust in those statistics
• Quality depends on cooperation of data
provides and survey respondents
• Need for international comparability
• Professional ethics
UN Fundamental Principles
1. Relevance, impartiality and equal access
2. Professionalism
3. Accountability on sources, methods, procedures
4. Prevention of misuse
5. Cost-effectiveness
6. Confidentiality
7. Legislation
8. National co-ordination
9. International co-ordination
10. International statistical co-operation
UN Fundamental Principle 1
• Relevance, impartiality and equal access
Official statistics provide an indispensable element in the
information system of a democratic society, serving the
government, the economy and the public with data about
the economic, demographic, social and environmental
situation. To this end, official statistics that meet the test of
practical utility are to be compiled and made available on
an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honour
citizens' entitlement to public information.
• One of the cornerstones of good government
and public confidence in good government
• Practical utility – relevant, fit for purpose,
accessible and usable
• Impartiality in compilation and release
(legislative base, open methods)
• Make information available widely and
Ways of understanding user needs
Key to achieving compliance with fundamental
principles is “maintaining an understanding of
what statistical information users want and how
they want it”
Advisory bodies
User consultation
Responsive organisational planning and operation
Dissemination and marketing
Key features of official statistics
• Quality and standards (definitions, methodologies etc)
• UK subset of all official statistics called ‘National
Statistics’ with Code of Practice* compliance
– Timeliness, accuracy, etc
– Accessibility (including pre-release access)
– Relevance and comparability
• International dimension strong - international standards,
‘regional’ statistical offices (eg Eurostat, OECD)
• Organisation, oversight and accountability to Parliament
*Code published here:
(Very) brief history of official statistics
• Official statistics before statistics invented (eg
linear B tablets, Augustus Caesar’s census)
• Age of Enlightenment – political arithmetic,
observations on bills of mortality
• Early 19th century golden era of official
statistics in Europe (and North America)
• Board of Trade and Office of the Registrar
General foreshadow business statistics and
population statistics developments
From first edition of proceedings of
Statistical Society of London
Mr. Benjamin Heywood, the President cf the
Statistical Society of Manchester,
communicated the results of an inquiry
instituted by that Society in 1834, into the
condition of 4,102 families of working men in
certain districts of the town of Manchester,
This information had been procured by
personal inquiries at each house, made by an
agent of the Society. The following is an
abstract of it:
One of the first ‘official’ statistics?
Some key points from history
• Root of the word ‘statistics’ is the Latin word for
‘the state’
• Official statisticians mainly producers and
disseminators of (tables of) statistics
• The analysis of data about the state – inferences
to be drawn from rigorously collected data
• Economic ‘vs’ social statistics
• National wellbeing as return to the “quantum of
happiness” enjoyed by inhabitants of a country
Worth following up
• Kotz (2005) gives a good overview
• 1874 edition (21st) of Board of Trade
Statistical Abstract for the United Kingdom
Main areas of official statistics
• Population and ‘vital’ statistics, demography, migration,
• Economy, trade, finance, prices, national accounts and
balance of payments
• Business demography
• Labour force, human capital
• Health, life expectation
• Social statistics – neighbourhoods, crime, education,
leisure, media
• Measuring national wellbeing and progress of societies
Main types of statistical work:
the statistical value chain
Identify user requirements
Design of data collection, methodology
Data collection operations
Data processing (often on a large scale),
checking, validating
• Dissemination
• Analysis
UK official statistics released on 15
January 2013 at 9:30am
Main sources of data for official
• Administrative systems (government, banking
• Censuses (businesses or people/households)
• Sample surveys (ditto)
• Specialist data collection and surveys eg time
• New directions eg Beyond 2011 Census;
Measuring National Well-being
Introduction to censuses and surveys
• For systematic collection of data from people, households,
• Census = “official enumeration of inhabitants with statistics
relating to them” (from Latin for ‘a register’, Chambers
• (Sample) survey: “Sample survey is the technique used to
study about a population with the help of a sample.
Population is the totality all objects about which the study
is proposed. Sample is only a portion of this population,
which is selected using certain statistical principles called
sampling designs (this is for guaranteeing that a
representative sample is obtained for the study). Once the
sample decided information will be collected from this
sample, which process is called sample survey” (Source: Yahoo)
Which technique?
Depends on which two are most important of ...
Dealing with uncertainty
• Census – how do we know we have counted
everyone? Cross checks, validation, registers,
post-enumeration survey
• Surveys:
– Aims to quantify the uncertainty of estimates
– Balance cost and precision through sample design
Survey process
Questionnaire design and cognitive testing
Piloting on small sample
Drawing main sample
Organising fieldwork including strategies to
minimise non-response
• Data collection now mainly CAPI or CATI
• Data checking
• (Processing, validation, analysis, dissemination)
Disseminating official statistics
• Two audiences – policy makers and
• From paper to website
• Role of the media
• Partnerships and collaboration
• Worth listening to – Andrew Dilnot on Numbers and public
policy: the power of official statistics and statistical
communication in public policy-making
Some concluding comments
• How much independence (eg funded by
• How radical?
• How is public good delivered? – role of media
• How accessible?
• In short, are official statistics fit for purpose? and how do we know?

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