twelfth session of the Committee on Statistics
adopted a number of recommendations and
conclusions for consideration by the Economic
and Social Commission for Asia and the
Pacific. One specific highlight: official
statisticians in the region gave full
importance to Information Technology (IT),
adding it to the existing priority areas.
The need to include the measurement of
the "IT field" among the more traditional
areas of official statistics was sanctioned
by the Committee.
Two other important
topics, the issue of quality of official
statistics and the use of Business Tendency
Surveys, were covered by two meetings.
The first was a gathering of high-level
official statisticians held in Cheju,
Republic of Korea; the second was covered
during a training workshop held in conjunction
with the Asian Development Bank (ADB)
and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD).
news: an updated list of web sites of
national statistical offices of the Asian
and Pacific region on page 8.
than half of the national statistical
offices of the region have a web site!
In our issue
114 of July 1999, we provided a list
of those national statistical offices
of the Asian and Pacific region that had
a Internet web site. At that time, 22
out of 56 regional members of ESCAP were
Today, 32 out of 57 ESCAP members in
the region have a web site for their statistical
agencies. This is significant progress
in the development of statistical capacity
in Asia and the Pacific. Read
inside about the ten additions we
have recorded so far .
twelfth session of the Committee on Statistics
records the highest attendance ever and promotes
The Committee on Statistics,
the main legislative body in the area of official
statistics for the Asian and Pacific region, held
its twelfth session in 2000, from 29 November
to 1 December. We are pleased to highlight the
number of members and associate members attending
the meeting. At 37, it was the highest country
participation recorded since statisticians started
meeting in the region in 1951. Nineteen agencies
were also present at the Committee session.
The most important outcome of the meeting was probably the importance assigned to information technology (IT) by the Committee. IT was considered critical not only for introducing efficiencies and new tools of great advantage to statistical work, but also for introducing new phenomena, such as electronic commerce, for which adequate frameworks for measurement need to be developed. Moreover, IT itself, a classical example of a crosscutting phenomenon, was seen as an area which needs to be "measured". Therefore, IT was added as the sixth priority area of work of the secretariat.
In addition, the Committee confirmed its previous five priority areas, the 1993 System of National Accounts (SNA), poverty statistics, gender statistics, statistics on the informal sector, and environment statistics.
A number of recommendations were adopted by the Committee and will be presented, together with the report itself, at the fifty-seventh session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in April.
Major conclusions and decisions
of which the Commission should take note
The Committee agreed
that steps should be undertaken towards better
measurement in the field of information technology
(IT) for development, but expressed the concern
that a single composite index alone could
not serve that purpose; a set of indicators
might well be preferable.
The Committee requested
the secretariat to prepare a paper exploring
alternatives for developing statistical frameworks
for measuring the field of IT, taking into
account the plans of the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP) and other emerging approaches,
for presentation to the Working Group of Statistical
Experts at its next session.
The Committee urged the
secretariat and ADB to continue to work closely
together in the field of poverty statistics.
The Committee was concerned
that in developing indicators to measure social
and economic progress, the needs and resources
of countries with less developed statistical
systems, including those in the Pacific, should
be taken fully into account. The range of
indicators provided must take account of the
needs of both national and international users.
The Committee urged countries
of the region to become as fully involved
as possible in the mechanisms being developed
for the process of reviewing development indicators,
which aimed at producing a limited number
of core indicators for validation by the United
Nations Statistical Commission at its session
The Committee welcomed
the report and the recommendations of the
Friends of the Chair of the Statistical Commission,
in particular that purchasing power parity
dollars (PPP$) be used throughout the Human
Development Report as the main form of comparison
of living standards. However, it expressed
the desire to see an improvement in the quality
of PPP data in some regions. The Committee
noted that sound PPP data were crucial for
proper analysis, and was also concerned about
how resources could be found to improve the
The Committee shared
the view of the representative of the Human
Development Report Office that the Human Development
Index (HDI), as a composite index, could only
be a very crude summary indicator of human
development. It needed to be supported by
other sets of statistics in order to capture
all dimensions of human development. The Committee
agreed that the Office should convey the limitations
of the HDI more clearly to the public, in
both the way it presented its results in the
Human Development Report and through its interaction
with the media.
The Committee recommended
that all statistical offices should keep in
mind, and prepare for, the eventuality that
policy makers and other influential data users
could at any time request data on the stage
of digitization in the country.
The Committee noted that
the rapid evolution of IT emphasized the need
to release related statistics very soon after
the observed events had taken place. It noted
that there was a high level of government,
business and community interest in statistics
on the information society, such as computer
ownership or Internet use, and recommended
that statistical offices should respond appropriately
in meeting statistical needs in that area.
The Committee agreed
that relatively accurate and timely measurement
of the state and change of the information
society was an important first step in bridging
the digital divide. In view of the increasing
importance of stepping up meth
rmation, the Committee
recommended that statistics on the information
society should be included on the agenda of
the next sessions of the Committee and its
In considering the revision
of the International Standard Industrial Classification
of All Economic Activities (ISIC) under the
auspices of the United Nations Statistical
Commission, the Committee stressed the great
importance of alternative schemes of industry
aggregation, such as for the electronics,
information, tourism and transport industries,
and of countries contributing to the review
so that the classification reflected the needs
of the region.
The Committee recognized
the importance of the International Comparison
Programme (ICP) in generating purchasing power
parities (PPPs) for cross-country comparison
of gross domestic product (GDP) and other
The Committee agreed
on the establishment of a regional ICP coordinating
body comprising countries, and international
and regional organizations. In that regard,
the Committee requested the secretariat to
prepare an action plan incorporating likely
resource implications and a research agenda.
The Committee acknowledged
the major contribution to extrabudgetary funding
made by the United Nations Population Fund
(UNFPA), and was pleased to learn that it
was likely to increase its level of funding
in the near future. The value of close collaboration
between ESCAP and UNFPA could also be seen
at the country level in the implementation
of statistical projects in the area of population.
Despite the advances
in Internet technology, the Committee recognized
that there was still a need for paper-based
output, especially for countries in which
access to the Internet was difficult or expensive.
The Committee expressed
gratitude to the Government of Japan for its
generous and continuing contribution to the
Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific
(SIAP), both in cash and in kind, including
the awarding of fellowships for training courses
in Japan. It also thanked other countries
and international organizations, especially
UNDP, for their financial and other support
to the Institute, and urged those countries
to increase their contributions.
The Committee decided
that information and communication technology
(ICT) and the knowledge-based economy should
feature in the medium-term plan and that an
amendment should be made accordingly at the
The Committee noted that
the priority areas of statistics that had
been identified at its earlier session, namely
the 1993 System of National Accounts (SNA),
poverty statistics, gender statistics, statistics
on the informal sector and environment statistics,
were in consonance with the vision statement
of the Executive Secretary. It considered
that ICT and the knowledge-based economy were
of emerging importance for statistical work,
and decided that those topics should be included
as an additional priority item in the programme
of work, 2002-2003. The Committee reiterated
that the thrust of the statistics programme
lay in promoting statistical development in
the region. It urged the secretariat to assist
in the building of national statistical capabilities,
and recognized that extrabudgetary resources
were often necessary in that regard.
The Committee urged the
secretariat to develop projects for the benefit
of the countries in the following areas: ICT,
statistical classifications, ICP, and statistics
on social issues.
The Committee decided
to retain public sector computerization in
its terms of reference, but at the same time
to limit the scope of the IT activities of
the statistics subprogramme so that they were
directly relevant to the work of statistical
In reviewing its functioning,
the Committee agreed to make no change to
the existing three-day format and to keep
its sessions biennial. Since the United Nations
Statistical Commission and the Governing Board
of SIAP met annually, the Committee decided
that the Working Group of Statistical Experts
should be empowered to act on its behalf in
relation to those bodies in years when the
Committee did not meet.
Given its high levels
of participation and representation from the
capitals, the Committee felt that there was
sound justification for its continued existence
within the conference structure. The Committee
decided to authorize its Bureau to monitor
developments with regard to the conference
odological work and increasing
the exchange of related info
role and importance of quality in official statistics,
discussed at the Cheju meeting by high-level representatives
of Asian and Pacific national statistical offices
(Excerpts from the meeting
summary report and web site)
The Statistical Quality Seminar
was organized by the Korean National Statistical
Office (KNSO) and the International Monetary Fund
(IMF). The Seminar took place in Jeju Island,
Republic of Korea, from 6 to 8 December 2000 with
participation from 18 countries as well as 7 international
During Session 1, Toward the Development of a Framework of Statistical Quality Assessment, participants took note of the existing wide variety of frameworks, approaches, objectives, techniques and instruments, which have, however, the common objective of promoting and monitoring the quality of statistics within national statistical organizations and at the international level.
Appreciation was expressed for the IMF work on data quality, specifically the Data Quality Reference Site on the Internet, available at http://dsbb.imf.org/dqrsindex.htm, and the comprehensive data quality assessment framework being developed. These were viewed as global initiatives to enlighten users on the quality of official statistics and to support countries in their efforts to improve the quality of their statistics. IMF was encouraged to continue work on the generic and specific assessment frameworks, using the interactive, consultative processes it had applied so far. In particular, IMF was encouraged to expand the number of specific frameworks, including through cooperation with other international organizations on datasets outside the core focus of IMF.
The effort of the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) to collect and disseminate examples of good practices relating to the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics was welcomed. This effort had been recommended by a work session co-organized by the Singapore Department of Statistics, UNSD, and IMF in January 1999. These examples, which are available at http://esa.un.org/unsd/goodprac/, highlight factors that influence the overall environment in which statistical systems function and, therefore, directly or indirectly affect statistical quality.
In Session 2, Review of the Trends and Approaches to Statistical Quality Assessment country practices and experiences, and various approaches to promoting and enhancing statistical quality were discussed. These included Total Quality Management (TQM), ISO 9000, and similar techniques, as well as methods for internal quality inspection (or self-assessment) and external assessments, including peer reviews (assessment of the quality of statistical systems, processes, and products by experts from other countries).
Some of these approaches focus on statistical processes, some on products, and some on the institutional setting; some encompass more than one of these perspectives. For example, some approaches focus on an individual data source such as a survey, some on collective products derived from several data sources such as national accounts. Some emphasize the provision of information to assist users in assessing data quality for their uses, while others emphasize information to feed back into the process. It was recognized that different quality indicators might have to be used, according to the differing approaches and purposes.
Despite the differences among the approaches used, it was concluded that an overriding common characteristics of these approaches should be that they take the users' needs as their principal starting point.
Equally, it was concluded that, no matter whether methodologies were used that were readily available on the market or were self-developed systems, one of the key success factors for all quality initiatives was the commitment of the senior management of statistical offices (including statistical units in ministries, central banks etc.). In pursuing quality and creating an environment in which quality was a core corporate issue, it was felt that the focus ought to be on initiatives for innovation and the exchange of expertise and experience, rather than on penalties for mistakes. In other words, management should aim to develop a learning organization and a culture of quality.
Session 3, National Experiences in the Quality Assessment and Improvement of Statistical Inputs and Outputs, reviewed the various approaches used and concluded that all have their own advantages and disadvantages and that, further, these advantages and disadvantages would have differing weights according to differences in organizational structure (including the difference between centralized and decentralized statistical systems), management styles, main statistical sources (surveys or administrative registers), and levels of statistical development. Thus, the choice of an approach to the management of quality would need to reflect the differing national situations; in other words, no one size fits all.
Nevertheless, enough common ground was found to exist that it was clear that more work should be done at the international level in harmonizing terminology and operationalizing concepts regarding statistical quality. In addition, international organizations should continue to play a role in training activities aiming at improved statistical quality assessment and management, as well as in the development of statistical quality manuals that would systematically document experiences and approaches used at the national and international levels. Finally, it was concluded that the international discussion on statistical quality management ought to be continued. In this regard, the initiative taken by Statistics Sweden and Eurostat to co-host a seminar on the same topics, in May 2001 (information available at the website) was welcomed, as were the session on Quality Programs in Statistics Agencies at the ISI meeting in August 2001 and the Statistics Canada symposium on Methodological Issues in Quality Management in late 2001.
Tendency Surveys (BTS) are the subject of a joint
The Workshop on Harmonizing
and Strengthening Business Tendency Surveys in
Selected Developing Member Countries was held
in Bangkok from 21 to 24 November 2000.
The workshop was jointly organized by ESCAP, ADB and OECD.
The workshop followed a first initiative on the subject organized in Manila, in November 1999 by ADB and OECD.
The progress of participating countries since November 1999 were assessed. The particular objective of this new project was to help countries develop Business Tendencies Surveys using the harmonized set of core questions as adopted by most OECD countries.
Under the project, each country will conduct a pilot BTS survey based on the improved and harmonized questionnaire, analyse and interpret the results, compile business confidence and composite indicators, and publish a report on these qualitative statistics, with financial support from ADB.
During the deliberations of the workshop, the participants discussed various institutional and technical issues relating to the production of BTS results in their countries. The presentation focused on:
Their experiences and present status on conducting, compiling BTS and analysing and disseminating BTS results;
Progress in adapting the harmonized BTS and related problems and issues.
The major outcomes of the sessions were as follows: All countries need to
Harmonize BTS produced by multiple agencies within and across the countries and collaborate among agencies within the countries;
Improve the questionnaire, sample frame and design, response rate, coverage and indicators;
Strengthen the technical capabilities of concerned staff for effective analysis and interpretation of BTS surveys;
Disseminate BTS surveys to the public in a cost-effective and timely manner.
A review paper introduced to what extent business tendency surveys in the ESCAP region are harmonized. It was noted that harmonization involved several distinct steps, such as the inclusion of the same variables, use of identical questionnaire formats like level, trend, future change, future level, reference periods (next 3-4 months, 3-4 months ago, 6 months ahead) and, eventually, identical timing of surveys with regard to the time in the month or quarter when the survey is carried out.
While most countries in the region cover many of the variables in the harmonized core set, differences were noted in the questionnaire formats, methodology for analysis and in the reference periods. There remains, therefore, considerable scope for further harmonization before these surveys will become internationally comparable.
It was noted that some surveys still ask for trends/changes rather than levels when the latter are prescribed by the harmonized system. In order not to make breaks in time series, these countries could add the harmonized question format as an additional question rather than replacing the existing question. Harmonized questions, in their exact format, are particularly useful in detecting cyclical turning points and changes in growth rates in a very timely fashion. The ability to achieve these results is one of the main advantages of qualitative business surveys compared with quantitative surveys.
Resistance from users to changes in the questionnaire and the consequent breaks in time series was recognized to be one of the main problems in adopting the harmonized questions. A way to solve this was to introduce the harmonized question as an additional question. It was also noted that some institutions were anxious to avoid increasing the burden on respondents by changing questionnaire formats or adding new questions. However, there appears to be considerable scope for reducing respondent burden through reducing the length of questionnaires as it was noted that some of the most successful BTS in OECD countries were only one A4 page in length and could be completed in 15 minutes or less.
It was suggested that OECD and ADB should be more aggressive in promoting the advantages of using the harmonized system for BTS as this would provide support for institutions that would like to adapt their questionnaires but were facing resistance from users. However, it was also pointed out that, at the Manila meeting, detailed explanations of the advantages of the harmonized system had been provided.
These included both the advantages for individual countries in adopting a set of questions that have been found to be answerable and analytically useful by the OECD member countries, and the advantages from being able to compare survey results both between other neighbours in the region and globally.
OECD recalled that institutions in countries of Eastern and Central Europe that had been the first to change their questionnaires to include the harmonized questions, despite some initial reluctance, benefited very considerably because their survey results were now those most likely to be quoted by the media and used by analysts.
Practical issues in implementing
business tendency surveys
Business tendency surveys are
designed to collect information from the managers
Some countries noted that the BTS questionnaires were often passed down to subordinate staff in bookkeeping or accounting departments rather than being completed by the managers. Several suggestions were made as to how this could be avoided.
The questionnaires must be designed in such a way that the manager in a short time and without the need to refer to any bookkeeping records can complete them. In other words the questionnaire should be confined to qualitative data because as soon as the questionnaire asks for quantitative data it is likely to be passed down to subordinate staff to complete.
The questionnaire needs to be designed so that it looks attractive. The questionnaire could be printed on coloured paper to distinguish it from ordinary statistical questionnaires.
Managers are more likely to take an interest in BTS if the results are given wide publicity in the media. Press releases should be designed so that journalists in the press and TV can easily understand the information.
Questionnaires that come from national statistical offices are routinely passed down to subordinate staff. It is often better, therefore, if BTS is seen to be operated by an agency other than the official statistical office. In many transition countries research institutes that are attached to the statistical agency operate these surveys.
If managers receive something useful in return, they are more likely to devote their time to completing the questionnaire. Respondents can be given special survey reports relevant to their line of business.
Another point discussed is that central banks and statistical offices usually find it very difficult to convince policy makers to disseminate BTS results showing a deteriorating economic situation. It was suggested that BTS producing agencies should take a neutral stance and release the data in a timely manner.
Regarding the form of dissemination, it was suggested that BTS statistics be released without any economic analysis, the interpretation of BTS results being left to the users.
Preliminary results show the population size, the number of private households, the growth rate, the population density and sex ratio for each region and each province, classified by municipal and non-municipal areas, as well as for the whole country.
The section "Advance Results" provides key socio-demographic indicators with a useful comparison of 1990, the year of the previous census, and 2000.
The section "Preliminary Reports" gives users census information by province or for the whole country.
In general, reports are available in PDF format, and tables in MS Excel.
Best practices in Official
Statistics available at the United Nations Statistics
Division's web site
Such useful information was
made available by the United Nations Statistics
Division (UNSD) in their online database on good
practices in official statistics.
As explained in the background information, the database was designed to further provide reference materials and examples on the best practices relating to the ten Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.
The Principles, we recall, were adopted by the Statistical Commission in 1994.
The need to have access to a compilation of best practices would better clarify the use and adoption of the Principles.
The online database can be searched by country and by keywords related to the various principles. When available, results include links to the concerned statistical agencies' web sites.
New Director-General and
reforms: changes at the Statistics Bureau of Japan
Mr Shinichi Kuyama was appointed
as Director-General of the Statistics Bureau of
Japan as of 6 January 2001 succeeding Mr Tatsuo
Inoue who retired as of 5 January.
We would like to convey our best wishes to Mr Kuyama in his new position.
Indeed, this is not the only change: in a recent reorganization of the Japanese central government, the Management and Coordination Agency, to which the Statistics Bureau belongs, merged with two other ministries to form the new Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications.
Updated information on changes affecting the other statistical offices of Asia and the Pacific is posted on our web site.
national statistical offices go online with their
More statistical web sites and
more visibility for official statistics are facts
that we all are happy to see.
On the following page a table provides updated URLs of all the home pages of national statistical offices' web sites in the Asian and Pacific region.
As mentioned on the cover page, we have recorded ten additions since the Statistical Newsletter No. 114 of May 1999. Thus, over 18 months the number of national statistical offices with web sites has increased to 32.
New additions are (1) Azerbaijan, (2) Fiji, (3) French Polynesia, (4) Guam, (5) the Islamic Republic of Iran, (6) Maldives, (7) Marshall Islands, (8) New Caledonia, (9) Papua New Guinea, and (10) Sri Lanka.
In previous issues of the Statistical Newsletter we described new web sites for our readers. Unfortunately it was not possible to review explicitly all the new "entries" and we only suggest our readers take note and bookmark the sites, if they have not done so yet.
However, it is admirable that several of the new web sites were set up by island countries, where human resources and available bandwidth could be severe concerns.
Selected links for statistical
data in the Asia and Pacific region
for Asia and the Pacific, Volume XXX, No.2,
of ESCAP Statistics Division Staff
Mr. Andrew J. Flatt,
Director, Statistics Division, undertook missions
Jeju Island, Republic
of Korea (6-8 December): To participate
in the Statistical Quality Seminar 2000.
Mr Joel Jere, Statistician, undertook
the following missions:
Bali (5-11 November):
To attend the Eighteenth session of the Asian
and Pacific Commission on Agricultural Statistics;
Manila (6-8 December):
Together with Ms Heidi Arboleda, Regional
Adviser on National Accounts, to attend the
Conference of APGEN Project Steering Committee
and Partners, and the Tripartite Review Meeting.
Ms. Heidi Arboleda, Regional Adviser
on National Accounts, visited the following
October): To provide advisory services on
the 1993 System of National Accounts (SNA);
Sri Lanka (16-27
October): To provide advisory services on
the 1993 System of National Accounts (SNA);
November): To provide advisory services on
the implementation of 1993 System of National
Accounts (SNA) and act as a resource person
on the seminar on time use survey and valuation
of unpaid work;
Manila (6-8 December):
To attend the APGEN Project Steering Committee,
and the Tripartite Review Meeting;
December): To review the sectoral accounts
and constant price estimations using the chain
volume index for the 1993 SNA.
Mr. Nuri M. Ozsever, ESCAP Adviser on
Population Data Processing and Database Management
with the UNFPA/CST in Bangkok, visited:
Mongolia (26 October-10
November): To assist the Population Teaching
and Research Center, Mongolian University,
in the data processing phase of migration
survey and in organizing a workshop on cross
tabulations of IMPS and SPSS for the selected
Lao People's Democratic
Republic (23 November-6 December): To
assist the National Statistical Centre of
the State Planning Committee in writing the
reproductive health survey report 2000 (RHS
Mr Peter Wingfield Digby,
joined the staff of the Statistics Division from
1 November to 15 December 2000.
to the Statistics Division
Mr Randhir Pathak
(Rajeef), General Manager, Lotus Interactive
Link Co. Ltd, Bangkok, Thailand
Mr Tony Hart,
Director, Information Business, MapInfo Asia