Statistical Journal of the IAOS artículo publicado de Máximo Aguilera, Coordinador de Programas y Proyectos de FLACSO, sobre Statistical Governance in the Latin American and the Caribbean Region: Achievements and challenges
• Pilar Martín-Guzmán (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain),
• Máximo Aguilera (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Sede Chile)
Several countries in the Latin American and Caribbean Region are experiencing a spectacular economic growth. As a consequence, reliable statistics are increasingly needed. In order to ensure the credibility of official statistics governance has to be enhanced.
This process has already started in the Region, and is being developed along several lines. First a Code of Good Practices in Statistics for the ECLAC Region, following the Fundamental Principles of United Nations and very much in the line of the European Code has been implemented and adopted and, in some countries, embodied into national Codes. As a consequence a number of countries in the Region are now in the process of updating their legislation on official statistics and adapting it to the principles of this Code. Another line of development is a plan for assessing the compliance of the current practices in the countries with the principles of the Code, and to that end a series of peer reviews, as well as some monitoring on the accomplishment of improvement actions, are being undertaken.
This paper intends to present an overview of the current situation, outlining the improvements already achieved and the main difficulties encountered in the process, and commenting on some challenges still pending.
Governance in official statistics, Code of Good Practices, credibility, institutional strengthening, quality.
The Latin American and Caribbean Region is undergoing a dramatic change in terms of economic and social development. A significant number of countries in the region are growing at high rates and increasingly opening to the global markets. At the same time there is in most of them a political trend towards the stabilization of democratic systems. Also, two of the countries in the Region are OECD members and another two have already applied for membership. Some others might follow this path in the near future.
This framework triggers a rising demand of credible official statistics, suitable for the design, implementation, follow-up and evaluation of public policies, and thus contributing to the transparency and accountability of the political system and to the strengthening of democracy. Aware of this new challenge, the Statistical Conference of the Americas has welcomed and supported a number of initiatives from several countries aimed at enhancing the credibility of Official Statistics in the Region. Among them, the Regional Code of Good Practices in Statistics is being the cornerstone in a peer review and assessment process that has already started, and which is leading to a significant improvement of the general quality, in terms of institutional environment, statistical processes and statistical outputs, of official statistics all over the Region. This exercise is meant to reinforce among the citizens at large the image of official statistics as a useful, credible, highly valued public good, and an essential tool for a better social and economic development and a stronger integration of the Region in a worldwide globalized economy.
2. The Regional Code of Good Practices in Statistics
The Code of Good Practices in Statistics for the Latin American and Caribbean Region sets its roots in the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics developed by the Conference of European Statisticians in 1991, adopted by the United Nations Statistical
Commission in 1994 and recently reaffirmed by this Commission, with a revised preamble, in 2013.
In view of the increasing demands for high-quality, timely and relevant statistics the Statistical Conference of the Americas (SCA), a subsidiary body of the Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC), welcomed in its fourth meeting in 2007 the initiative of some countries to develop a Code of Good Practices in Statistics (CGPS). The 5th Conference, in 2009, ended with a general agreement of the countries to develop a proposal for this Code, and with the establishment of a steering group on Institutional Strengthening under the leadership of DANE, the National Statistical Office of Colombia. The 6th Statistical Conference, in 2011, endorsed the finalized Code and its implementation plan while urging the countries to adopt it as the framework of professional conduct for the production and dissemination of official statistics.
The CGPS follows to a great extent the lines of the European Statistical Code of Practice adopted by the E.U. Statistical Program Committee in 2005. It consists also in a number of principles, for each of which some criteria have been specified. These criteria are intended to play a role similar to the indicators associated with each of the principles in the European Code. The principles are clustered into three groups, with headings similar to the ones in the European code: Institutional Environment, Statistical Processes and Statistical Output.
There are, however, some differences worth mentioning: while the European code contains only 15 principles, the Latin American and Caribbean one consists in 17 principles and 85 criteria. The two principles that do not have a parallel in the European Code are: Principle 2, Coordination of the National Statistical System and Principle 8, International Cooperation and Participation. The inclusion of these two principles is fully justified on the grounds that a) most statistical systems in Latin America are decentralized as regards the production and dissemination of statistics and b) although there are in this Region some coordinating organizations at international level, they do not have the legal support that would allow them to play the strong coordinating role that EUROSTAT, or the European Statistical System, are playing in the E.U.
Following the endorsement of this Code of Good Practices by the 6th Statistical Conference of the Americas, some countries decided to adapt it to their national characteristics, so producing a National Code that would be endorsed also by their governments .A few of them have already completed it.
For the implementation of this process a workshop, attended by representatives of most of the countries in the Region, was held in Bogotá in July 2013 for the dissemination of the Code, aiming to clarify the significance of the criteria and the practices that would better comply with them. The discussions that followed to the presentations provided a quite complete overview on the state-of-the art, and strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and risks were analyzed in detail.
That triggered the start of an ongoing process according to which most statistical offices in the Region are currently improving their practices along the lines recommended by the Code, and plans for self-assessment and monitoring are being put in practice in several of them. A significant number of countries completed self-evaluation questionnaires and specified improvement actions, and the accomplishment of these actions is being monitored. Also a number of them have stood for undergoing a peer review. Eight countries have been already reviewed, or are under reviewing process by international teams of peers, including European experts, and some others have applied for review, so that this exercise is envisaged to continue in the near future.
Most statistical systems in the Region are organized around a National Statistical Office, usually created either under a specific statistical law or as a by-product of the legislation on the statistical functions in the country. More often than not these statistical systems are decentralized for the production and dissemination of statistics and centralized as regards normative aspects, with the national statistical office presumably issuing guidelines and steering the system as a whole.
The dissemination of the Code of Practice has aroused in most countries of the Region a new impetus on enhancing governance in the National Statistical System. The great majority of them are already endowed with a basic legislation guaranteeing the independence of the statistical production. According to the results of a recent self-assessment survey on best practices to which 19 countries responded, the mandate to compile data for the production of statistics is specified by law in a 100% of the cases, and confidentiality requirements are also explicitly established in all of them.
But there are still a few countries that do not have a proper Statistical Act, their legal framework consisting on pieces of legislation regulating specific activities, such as censuses, or access to administrative registers. In some others the Statistical Law is very old (in some cases it goes as far as 1942) and is in need of some revamping. But the dissemination of the Code has started a new dynamic, and a significant number of countries are undertaking a modernization of their legislation frames in order to adapt them to the principles of the Code, and trying to pass them through their parliaments. Although this process is turning out to be slow and complex in many cases, some countries have already succeeded. Among the cultural changes stimulated by the CGPS on issues of independence, it is worth mentioning that a couple of countries have already managed to incorporate in their legislations new rules for the nomination of the chief statistician, who will be no longer directly and unrestrictedly appointed by the government, but selected from a short list of candidates produced by a panel of experts. Also, a fixed term of office for the chief statistician has already been established by law in one country.
Significant improvements on coordination have also been driven by the dissemination of the CGPS. During this last year most of the countries in the Region have managed to complete their inventory of statistical operations and some of them are implementing methods for its periodical updating. This has been a great advance, as it facilitates the identification of the set of entities producing official statistics that make up the Statistical System. In several countries the NSO has recently organized for the first time meetings with representatives of all these entities and, as a result, a global statistical program inclusive of the whole set of statistical operations classified as official statistics has been produced. In addition, new working groups have been formed for the coordination of statistics by sectors, and memorandums of understanding for the common use of statistical sources are now being signed in most countries.
Still, much remains to be done on this issue. Although the independence of the National Statistical Offices is clearly guaranteed by law in all the countries, legislations are not so explicit for other producers of official statistics, and the countries in the Region having the benefit of an effective Statistical Council able to help in the coordination of the system and the setting of priorities and to enhance the credibility of the Statistical System among the citizens at large is still small. But the improvements attained since the start of the project are indeed remarkable.
In practically all the countries the dissemination of data is done by the statistical offices, mostly through their own press offices, and statistical releases are clearly differentiated from government statements. The occasional participation of members of the government in the press conferences organized by the NSO is becoming, of lately, a very unusual practice.
As regards confidentiality, it is guaranteed by law in all the countries of the Region, and suitable practices are usually adopted for its preserving. But the appropriate protocols for the implementation of this principle are available only in a few of them, and provisions for the anonimization of micro-data files in view of their facilitation to the users for research purposes are still in most counties in a low stage of development.
3. Statistical processes
Although the economic growth now taking place in the Region is opening better perspectives to the statistical offices in Latin American and Caribbean countries, the current situation shows in most of them a severe scarcity in material and human resources. In this framework, considerable efforts are being made in order to improve the cost-efficiency of the statistical processes. In spite of a number of challenges and drawbacks most of these efforts have led to interesting results.
All statistical offices are aware of the advantages of using information from administrative registers, and a legislation granting access to these registers for statistical purposes has been passed already in many of the countries. In some others a Memorandum of Understanding, or a similar agreement between the Statistical Office and other Public Services, guarantees access to the administrative registers. Unfortunately, this important step forward has not yet been fully exploited in some of them, sometimes because effective access to registers happens to be prevented by laws of a rank equivalent to that of the statistical legislation, in other cases because the persons in charge of these registers are reluctant to cooperate with the statistical office. Even when unrestricted access to registers actually takes place, they are not always apt to be used for statistical purposes due to their low quality or to lack of harmonization in standards, classifications or definitions. The coordination problems still existing within the National Statistical Systems are an added hindrance.
Some statistical offices are now involved in an interesting project for the streamlining and systematization of the statistical processes in order to increase efficiency. But there are, concerning this point, considerable differences within the Region. In most of the countries statistical processes are still carried out in an atomized, domain-oriented way, each of them implemented by a small unit responsible only for that particular statistical operation and with a very limited connection with other production units. An effort has to be made in order to develop flexible survey designs that could be used in several domains. A restructuring of the organization charts is now taking place in many of the statistical offices with a view towards facilitating this process. Also, the active international statistical cooperation taking place within the Region appears to be a great help.
The ethnical diversity and the complex geographical structure in almost all the countries are huge challenges when it comes to personal data collection, while the current technological level does not facilitate yet in most of them the use of the web for this purpose. This limitation is bound to disappear in a few years. In the meanwhile a significant number of countries are shifting towards using CAPI techniques and other technological advances for data collection and processing.
4. Statistical output
There are great differences among the countries in relation to quality assessment and reporting, but most of them have achieved significant improvements since the start of this project. A few of them have already included in the organization chart a unit for quality assessment, and elementary quality indicators for surveys, such as sampling errors or response rates are now calculated and published, together with the data, in practically all the countries. Imputation and other processing techniques have been recently introduced in a significant number of them, but seasonal or calendar adjustments are not yet a usual practice in the Region. Most NSO’s have already documented their main surveys and recently started to document the whole statistical
processes in detail –a particularly relevant issue in this Region, where many NSO have to cope with a quick staff turnover- but this is an ongoing process that will still take time to be completed. Also a few countries have already produced a quality assessment plan.
The implementation of the CGPS has also started a new culture on timeliness. All the countries are accelerating the production processes, although in many cases the difficulty to have effective access to administrative registers is hindering further progress. Old practices like delaying the release of data until a press conference could be organized or until the publication on paper was ready are quickly been replaced by immediate dissemination on the web. But there is still a general reluctance to publish flash or advanced indicators, for fear that it could jeopardize the credibility of the statistical office among the public at large.
The web is also facilitating simultaneous access of all users to the information, so replacing the old culture of discretionary supply of data. Still, pre-access to data, mainly granted to members of the government, is scarcely regulated, and dissemination protocols are practically non-existing.
Concerning the use of a release calendar for publication of indicators a wide range of situations can be observed. There are still a few countries that don’t have a calendar, and some others have a calendar only for internal use, which is not made public. From those that disseminate it, some establish a precise day (and even a precise time of the day) for the publication of the indicator, while others fix only the week. Again, the publication of the CGPS is promoting a change of culture: the calendar, which was initially seen as a device to keep the different units of the NSO within schedule in the statistical processes is now appreciated as an instrument for preventing eventual interferences and enhancing the credibility of official statistics. Still, among the countries having a public calendar, only a few have developed a protocol or an action plan for the case when release targets are not met.
Another significant improvement that the CGPS is bringing about is the transformation of traditional NSO’s, focused on providing information to the government and the university and research community, to modern NSO’s, pointing at the whole population as potential users of official statistics. There is a general concern about improving the quality of the web page in order to make it attractive and easily accessible. The process of including metadata and methodologies in the web to be disseminated together with the data is advancing very quickly in most countries, and a few of them are already developing a protocol for informing the users about revisions and correction of errors discovered in published statistics.
Relations with users at large are now considered a capital issue by the statistical offices in the Region. In particular, relations with the media are very much fostered. The press offices of most NSO’s are in charge not only of the dissemination of data, but also of the follow-up of all media publications connected with statistics. Quick reaction to the publication of wrong or misinterpreted information has become also common practice, and the organization of courses and workshops specifically designed for the media shows a rapidly increasing trend. On the other hand, many NSO’s are devising mechanisms aimed at increasing their connections with the business sector.
Users satisfaction is generally appraised through users committees. A few countries have recently started to implement satisfaction surveys in the web, but there is general complain about the very low response rate.
5. Some conclusions
Commitment to governance in official statistics is a recently aroused and growing concern in the Latin American and Caribbean Region. The Regional Code of Good
Practices in Statistics, endorsed by the Statistical Conference of the Americas in 2011, is acting as the springboard for a significant improvement of the institutional environment and the everyday practices in the statistical offices. Under the leadership of the Group on Institutional Strengthening, based in DANE, Colombia, a number of actions are taking place that are fostering the improvement of practices in official statistics in line with the principles and criteria of the Code.
All that is creating now a momentum for enhancing credibility, quality and good service to users, and actions are being taken in most countries in order to promote better legal frameworks and to implement more efficient and transparent working methods. Outstanding advances have already been achieved in the framework of this project, concerning institutional environment, statistical processes and statistical output.
Much remains still to be made, but the results obtained so far are most stimulating. The ongoing process of workshops and peer reviews, if continued, forebodes a new wave of dramatic improvements in the statistical governance of this Region.
(1) Code of Good Practice in Statistics for Latin America and the Caribbean, SCA-ECLAC, UN, November 2011
(2) European Statistics Code of Practice for the National and Community Statistical Authorities, EUROSTAT-ESS, second version , September 2011
(3) Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, ESC-SC, UN, with revised preamble, March 2013