Following is the Speech by the Commissioner for Census and Statistics, Mr Frederick W H Ho, at the "Hong Kong CensusPro 2001 Product Launch" Seminar today (September 25):
Recent Trend in the Dissemination of Official Statistics
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me much pleasure to attend this Seminar today to share with you the recent trend in the dissemination of official statistics. I will mainly focus on what we do in Hong Kong, but in so doing I am also talking about the world trend, since we are doing very much the same thing as leading statistical authorities in the world do.
I will begin with the use of official statistics, which will be followed by the evolution of different forms of data dissemination as information technology advances; and lastly on the role of private sector vendors in the dissemination of official statistics.
Use of official statistics
Official statistics are of fundamental importance to the government in administering its business. From macro-economic analysis to long-term planning and to the management of daily routines, statistics have a very significant part to play.
In a democracy, we expect citizens to participate actively in monitoring the development of the economy and society and in policy formulation and decision processes. In order to do this properly, they need to have easy access to official statistics in order to analyse issues in a scientific manner and provide their inputs in debates and proposals sensibly.
In the business sector, analysts perform macro-economic analyses quite similarly to what government economists do, except that the angles and purposes may often be somewhat different. These require official statistics. Besides, individual business firms also find great use in official statistics for making individual investment decisions and planning business strategies. Often, official statistics are used in conjunction with data generated from the companies' own business. With more and more data mining techniques being developed, the potentials for individual firms to use statistics are expanding continuously.
Underpinning the widespread use of official statistics produced by a specific official statistics system is the confidence in the statistical authority which operates the system.
The official statistics system of Hong Kong enjoys a good reputation both locally and in the international statistical community, commanding trust from many sectors. We recognize that this has been possible owing to its possession of three basic elements: (a) we follow international statistical standards closely; (b) we use statistical techniques properly and (c) we emphasize on professional ethics. In these respects, we have been using the Declaration of Professional Ethics of the International Statistical Institute established in 1985 and the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics adopted by the United Nations in 1994 as central references.
These international guidelines basically advocate the values of professionalism, transparency, accountability and integrity required of statistical systems in maintaining credibility and public confidence. They also stress on accessibility and people's right to know.
An important development in recent years in the international standards of data dissemination is the promulgation of the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS) by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1996. SDDS serves as a standard of practice to economies in the provision of economic and financial data to the public. This is to be seen against the background of the Mexican Peso crisis in late 1994/early 1995, after which detailed studies conducted by the IMF concluded that the provision of timely, comprehensive and reliable statistics by economies played an important part in the enforcement of necessary surveillance of the financial market that could help avoid the recurrence of similar situations.
Hong Kong formally subscribed to the SDDS in April 1997 and has since then been listed on the Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB) of the IMF on the Internet (http://dsbb.imf.org). Economies subscribing to the SDDS undertake to follow the sound practices which the Standard stipulates and these consist of four dimensions: the data dimension (which includes coverage, periodicity and timeliness); access by the public; integrity; and quality of the disseminated data. All subscribing countries/territories have to provide detailed information about the methods of compilation and the practices of disseminating economic and financial statistics (i.e. 'meta-data') on the DSBB.
In order to comply with the requirements of the SDDS, statistical authorities of relevant economies are committed to meeting specific requirements. For instance, in order to ensure the quality and the integrity of data, statistical authorities should follow international statistical standards in producing statistics and adopt various administrative measures to ensure that the data production and dissemination processes are not subject to intervention by outside parties.
Since its promulgation, there have been increasingly more subscribers to the SDDS. At present, 50 countries/territories have subscribed to the SDDS. With C&SD's website and DSBB hyperlinked to each other, Hong Kong's official statistics, together with their relevant technical details, can be easily accessed by users both locally and overseas.
Evolution of different forms of data dissemination as information technology
Now, let me turn to the practice of data dissemination.
Publications and computer printouts of statistical tables are traditional outputs of statistical authorities. In the early days, the alternative to paper publications was to disseminate statistical data using computer tapes. This, however, was only useful to the few users who had access to a mainframe computer. Over the last two decades, access has become far more widespread with the common availability of personal computers, where data can be stored in floppy diskettes. And in the last ten years, disseminating massive data in CD-ROM has also become popular.
IT advances in the past two decades enabled data to be disseminated using a multi-media approach. Today, the Internet is opening up numerous new possibilities for both statistical authorities and users. The Internet's main advantages lie in its interactivity, versatility, speed and cost efficiency, enabling statistical authorities and other service providers alike to greatly enhance their services. Everywhere, more and more statistics are being posted on the websites of statistical authorities for browsing by users. That apart, posting electronic versions of statistical tables and publications on websites for downloading by users has also become a trendy move.
No doubt Hong Kong has also reaped the benefits of IT advances. Today, we adopt a multi-media approach to disseminating official statistics, emphasizing on friendly access and prompt delivery. Where hardcopies of statistical outputs are available, be they publications or statistical tables, their softcopy equivalents are there. Statistics at different levels of analysis are presently disseminated in a wide range of products and services meeting a variety of data needs. The various means of data dissemination that we adopt include :
(i) Issue of press releases which contain statistics of common interest to the general public;
(ii) Posting of statistics which should be of general public knowledge as "frequently asked statistics" on the departmental website (i.e. the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) Website at http://www.info.gov.hk/censtatd/). The C&SD Website also serves as a portal for official statistics compiled by other government departments in Hong Kong;
(iii) Publication of printed reports and their electronic versions (in PDF format) providing statistical data and methodologies in greater detail. They include thematic reports on various aspects of the social and economic situation of Hong Kong and general digests containing statistics straddling a host of subject areas;
(iv) Production of statistical tables which contain more detailed statistics than publications, available both in the form of computer printouts for manual retrieval and softcopies for purchase over the Internet;
(v) Production of CD-ROM products which disseminate massive data; and
(vi) Provision of data enquiry service, including customized data tabulation services, for users requiring specific data.
In regard to charging, the major principle which we operate on is that we will provide basic statistics free of charge or at nominal cost while more detailed statistics or tailor-made statistical services are provided at a reasonable charge.
A significant development in the area of electronic data dissemination took place last October. We launched the online "Statistical Bookstore, Hong Kong", making our statistical information even more easily accessible to users. First of its kind in the Government, the Bookstore offers electronic versions of statistical publications and tables through online payment and delivery over the Internet. As with most online bookstores, users may also place orders for printed copies of publications.
Given the growing popularity of Internet access, enhanced availability of official statistics on our departmental website is increasingly called for. We are now working to expand the scope and extend the time series of data posted on the website.
In the longer term, we will develop an interactive web-based data dissemination service, which aims to provide customized statistical products to the more sophisticated users. Through an interactive and user-friendly interface, users will be able to generate customized statistical tables from statistical databases.
The role of private sector vendors in the dissemination of official statistics
Maximizing data utility is amongst the common goals of statistical authorities. In promoting data utility in data dissemination, statistical authorities are aware of the important role of private firms and the contribution they could offer. The engagement of outside agencies in dissemination of official statistics, whether re-dissemination with improved packaging or with value added product content contributed by the agencies, has become a significant option in expanding the dissemination network and increasing data utility. In particular, where there are value-added content enhancements, it could complement or supplement the data details that might not be covered in the official data dissemination plan owing to considerations like resource constraints and technological knowhow.
Along this direction, we look forward to increased working partnership
with the private sector. Starting ten years ago, private companies have
been disseminating value-added population census data on CD-ROMs and the
scope has been increasing to cover other areas. I am sure more such endeavours
will be forthcoming.
Let me stop here. But before finishing, I wish to thank Info Mapping (Hong Kong) Limited, the organiser of this seminar, for organising this Seminar and inviting me to speak. I am sure this will be a fruitful and interesting seminar.
Thank you very much.
End/Wednesday, September 25, 2002