“Data is the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time; designing, monitoring and evaluating effective policies becomes almost impossible. So, too, does the ability of businesses and people to make well-based decisions. As the volumes of available data increase, quality should become the decisive factor when choosing a data source.” This quote from the United Nations shows the value of official statistics in decision and policy-making. From original statistics compiled by National Statistical Organizations (NSO) internationally to official statistics produced by our local Central Statistical Office (CSO) in measuring our evolving environment; data is needed to improve the lifestyles of citizens across the globe.
Trinidad and Tobago’s first official census was conducted in 1844. Yet another was conducted in 1851, a two-part document which detailed statistical information for Trinidad only and a chart containing the numerical status of the island’s counties and wards. Remarkably, the 1851 census document is the only census document to contain the names and address of persons, specific to those living in St George County at that time. It also lists their sex, age, educational level, country of birth, marital status, religion, and occupation. Since then, national censuses have been conducted every ten years, except for the disruption caused by World War 2 in 1941, the general elections in 2010 which deferred it to 2011, and currently, the COVID19 pandemic. Data collected in those early censuses pertained to the socio-economic conditions at the time and was directed by the British Government for the colonies within the British West Indies.
The 1946 census is considered the first modern census which was conducted with close collaboration with the other British colonies in the region. This coordinated approach set the stage for regional statistical planning and the sharing of resources between Caribbean territories. In 1952, Statistical Ordinance No. 26 permitted the establishment of the Central Statistical Office and provided legal sanction for the provision of statistical information which included:
● Industrial Establishments
● Employment, wages, salaries and earnings
● Annual Land Returns
● Slaughterhouse Returns
● Distribution, Transport and other Services Establishments
● Housing and Population Census
● Agricultural Census, and
● Industrial or Business Undertakings
This portfolio grew with the inclusion of the Monthly and Annual Travel Statistics, Education Statistics, National Income, Balance of Payments, Financial Statistics, and the Continuous Sample Survey of the Population by the mid-1960s. Today, the CSO is responsible for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data related to population and vital statistics, travel and tourism, national accounts, business and industry, international trade, economics, labour force, agriculture and geographic information systems.
Official statistics are founded on the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics adopted by the United Nations Economic Commission of Europe in 1992. To ensure these principles are followed, they must be enshrined in the country’s legislation. Other laws which contain articles related to statistics must not contradict the standard of the principles. Furthermore, the collection and dissemination of official statistics should be the primary mandate of the country’s National Statistical Office (NSO) to avoid a conflict of interest and to utilise economies of scale.
With the swiftly changing global environment, NSOs must be equipped with the resources necessary to fulfill their mandates. The publication of official statistics by a country’s NSO is of particular importance to decision-making on every level of society, monitoring and evaluating of policies as well as accounting for public expenditure. NSOs must provide a valuable service to the public, and in doing so, cultivate greater trust in the production of official statistics.
The changing global environment has resulted in the need for new technologies and techniques related to official statistics. “To seize the opportunities presented by the data revolution, statistical offices will need to invest in new technology and production processes and establish partnerships with new actors” (OECD 2017). The sheer increase in the amount of digital data available, also known as big data, provides an opportunity to transform national statistical systems in rich and poor countries alike.
The 2021 Conference on New Techniques & Technologies for Official Statistics included topics such as innovative data collection tools, open-source data, web intelligence for official statistics, trusted smart surveys, and new data sources. New data collection methods such as telephone interviews, Computer Assisted Personal Interviews (CAPI) and web surveys are now being used. The combination of new and traditional data collection methods can help improve response rates and representation in official statistics.
Trusted Smart Surveys (TSS) refer to new data sources which necessitate changes to the entirety of the statistical system and the possibility of a hybrid approach combining typical data sources. New computing technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and privacy-enhancing technologies are now necessary components for the production and use of big data.
The challenges inherent in these new data sources can be mitigated with the development of a multi-layered modular approach to official statistics. In this changing environment, NSOs must be positioned as the core of a robust data ecosystem that propels a country towards increased sustainability and socio-economic development.