The second meeting of the Working
Party on the Application of New Technology to
Population Data was hosted by the Department
of Statistics Singapore from 1 to 3 April 1998.
It was attended by all members. An invited
expert from New Zealand also attended, who became
the ninth member of the Working Party.
An expert from the United Nations Statistics
Division (UNSD) and the Director of the Statistical
Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP) also
participated. The focus of the meeting
was the use of Internet applications at various
stages of population data collection and dissemination.
The Working Party also reviewed the progress
of the project since its last meeting, and discussed,
among others, the following topics:
Overall approach to
Census 2000: The Case of Singapore.
Use of secured Internet
in data collection and dissemination in Singapore.
at various stages of population data collection
and dissemination: experience in the region.
Useful database applications
Proposal on an awareness
package on the application of modern technology
to population data
The Singapore Department of Statistics provided
host facilities and made several presentations
on the application of IT in practical statistical
work. Their presentations included the
tabulation package FASTAB, Time Series Retrieval
and Dissemination Database (TREND), and Commercial
Establishment Information System (CEIS).
Each of the participating countries presented
and shared their experience on Internet applications
at various states of population data collection
Recommendations of the second meeting
Working Party reviewed the questionnaire prepared
by the secretariat for a survey to assess
the use of information technology in population
data collection, processing and dissemination.
It noted that the results of the survey would
be submitted to the ESCAP Committee
on Statistics after a review by the Working
Party. Recognizing that the survey would
provide important background information for
various activities under the project, including
the guidelines, the Working Party made detailed
recommendations on the content and format
of the questionnaire and asked the secretariat
to dispatch the revised questionnaire soon
after the meeting.
appreciation to New Zealand of its acceptance
to become a member of the working party, the
Working Party amended the "Mode of Functioning
of the Working Party" to reflect the increased
number (nine) of its membership.
Working Party made recommendations regarding
the work underway, including the administrative
arrangements for pilot studies on the preparation
of the guidelines. It recommended that
the guidelines should be self-contained, be
prepared with a view of benefiting developing
countries, and that their focus should not
be limited to the domains of the pilot applications.
It also recommended that the focus of the
first two issues of the project newsletter
be limited to the Working Party meetings already
held and requested the secretariat to publish
them as soon as possible.
Working Party requested the secretariat to
dedicate a section to the Working Party at
the Statistics Division's website, featuring
the newsletter, meeting documents, recommendations,
guidelines and other work done in the project.
that web publishing was a standard practice
to disseminate information, the Working Party
requested all members to provide their future
contributions in electronic format.
To alleviate the work load of the secretariat,
the Working Party encouraged the provision
of meeting documents in HTML, or in a format
that was easy to convert into HTML.
Working Party decided that the third meeting
would be held tentatively in the second half
of October 1998, focusing on population data
capture, coding, verification and workflow.
Noting that Indonesia was preparing its pilot
application on imaging involving evaluation
of alternative technologies for handling the
very large volume of census forms, the Working
Party considered Jakarta to be one suitable
venue for its third meeting. It approved
the provisional agenda and documentation plan
for the third meeting, as proposed by the
subgroup on imaging technologies. The
fourth meeting was tentatively scheduled for
March 1999 with a focus on Geographic Information
on the use of the Internet
Noting the positive
experiences of Singapore and other countries
in using the Internet in data dissemination,
the Working Party encouraged in general all
statistical offices to establish an effective
Internet presence, and use it innovatively
in census and survey operations.
The Working Party noted
the innovative efforts of some countries in
using the Internet for data collection and
encouraged them to share their experiences
with other countries.
The Working Party recommended
that NSOs adopt an incremental and modular
approach to developing a website, especially
when resources are limited.
Noting that several advanced
NSOs were depending on e-mail for their daily
communications which had significantly increased
their productivity, the Working Party recommended
an extensive use of e-mail and other Internet
applications by all NSOs in census planning,
document sharing, data transfer and other
The Working Party noted
that to achieve maximum benefits from the
new technologies, changes might be necessary,
among other things, in organizational structures,
coordination arrangements and individual responsibilities.
It recommended that NSOs should take a critical
look at their population data operations as
a whole with a view to "reengineering" them
to meet the requirements and opportunities
of Internet technologies. It stressed
that systematic training of staff was essential
to instill a holistic approach that took the
technology into account from the beginning.
The Working Party recommended
that metadata be included as an essential
component at census websites as they added
considerably to the value of population data.
The metadata could include such information
as the general organization of the census,
coverage, census forms, instructions to field
workers, methods followed in derivation of
numeric results, accuracy, sampling methodology,
and references to published reports.
Recognizing that there
was a glut of information competing for users'
attention, the Working Party felt that it
was necessary to promote statistical websites
by using all available means, including announcements
on national and global search engines.
Discussing other ways
to increase the visibility of population data,
the Working Party recommended equipping websites
with a search facility, preferably the types
allowing open text searches; it further recommended
systematic use of HTML metakeys and descriptive
titles that were automatically picked up by
referencing engines and "crawlers".
Mindful that a large
number of Internet users in developing countries
were behind a narrow bandwidth connection,
the Working Party cautioned authors not to
include large graphics components on pages
that made download times prohibitive.
The Working Party emphasized that it was important
for the developers to test web pages with
low-end browsers that did not support graphics,
and provided a text-only alternative.
The Working Party noted
that the development of electronic commerce
technologies and secure data encryption had
opened up new possibilities for commercial
statistical products. It urged NSOs
to consider that new area as another means
of data dissemination.
Noting the benefits of
the Internet in making statistics available
to users faster and in greater depth than
previously, the Working Party recommended
that statistical offices streamline their
release approval/authorization processes to
match the significant progress achieved in
the technical dissemination process.
The Working Party noted
that a number of software, applications, and
solutions have been developed by NSOs which
can be shared among the countries/areas of
the region. It recommended that such
software and applications which might be available
for distribution be listed on the ESCAP homepage.
The Working Party expressed its gratitude
to the Singapore Department of Statistics
for identifying FASTAB as a product which
could be shared in the region.
Recognizing the importance
of the influence of policy and decision makers
in prioritization for budget allocations,
the Working Party recommended that an awareness
package could be prepared and that its content
should stress the importance and purpose of
census taking including the necessity of making
available census data quickly to the users.
The content of the package could focus on
strategies and application of technology in
the various phases of census operations with
a focus on speedy processing and timely dissemination
of census data. The package should be
in the form of a short video with supporting
documents, which should be made available
for the 2000 round of censuses.
to utilize high technology in Census 2000
Singapore is becoming the first country in
the region to use a register-based approach,
combined with a tri-modal data collection strategy,
to conduct a full census. The administrative
base information will be complemented by data
collected during the census. That specific
collection will, however, be limited to 20 per
cent samples of the population, or the size
proven adequate to provide details for in-depth
studies and needs of the majority of users.
The field workers would only meet citizens that
could not be reached by the two other modes,
namely, the Internet enumeration or computer
assisted telephone interviewing (CATI).
Before deciding to embark on a register-based
census, the first considerations were the quality
of administrative data, computer security, a
legal framework, as well as effectiveness and
the costs involved. The verification checks
will also remove duplicates arising during the
data collection phase.
The new register-based census model implies
a shift from the actual "census night" location
of people residing in Singapore towards adopting
a "de jure" concept of residence status utilizing
the National Database on Dwellings (NDD), which
contains administrative housing information.
The integrated use of the various technologies
in Census 2000 would set the foundation for
the Singapore Department of Statistics IT vision
for the future.
Singapore is in a better position than most
other countries in the region to adopt such
a high technology approach to census.
It has a well developed vital registration and
administrative system, a very good communications
infrastructure and is technologically advanced.
Further, it has relatively small and highly
educated population with increasing computer
and Internet literacy.
of secured Internet in data collection and dissemination
The Electronic Transfer of Returns (ETR)
system is a new mode of collecting statistical
information via the Internet. It is a
major imitative undertaken by the Singapore
Department of Statistics to provide better services
to the public. The ETR infrastructure
is now housed and managed by the National Computer
Board of Singapore. The Department's Business
Expectations Survey (BES) is the first statistical
survey to be conducted by ETR.
The ETR system provides survey respondents,
1250 establishments engaged in commerce and
services, with a quick and convenient way to
submit their statistical data to the Department.
Additionally, it helps to expedite survey operations.
Data transmission over the Internet is done
securely using an advanced encryption algorithm.
The ETR system is expected to pave the way for
future development of other Internet applications
for collecting statistical data. In the
ETR system, users will be authenticated by verifying
their signatures stored in digital certificates.
Those certificates will be the electronic equivalents
of the users' identification documents.
The digital certificates will be issued by a
database applications and systems
Flexible And Swift Tabulation
FASTAB is a new tabulation package for population
census that will be used for the forthcoming
Singapore Population Census 2000. FASTAB
is a high-speed, high-volume, user-friendly,
windows-based cross tabulation package with
Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), operating on
a Windows 95 platform.
FASTAB, developed for the Singapore Department
of Statistics, can process millions of records
in the minimum time possible. It is targeted
to process 5 levels of tabulations at the speed
of 3 million records per minute. This
is a marked improvement compared with available
packaged software, such as TPL tables which
take 40 minutes to generate. As FASTAB is a
client-server application where the server handles
the intensive computation, user interactions
are done via the client. Users simply
specify the parameters and FASTAB does the rest.
Users also see the GUIs and use drag-and-drop
capabilities with online tips. Users can
also share data sets and create new data sets
from existing data fields.
FASTAB is flexible as programs written in earlier
sessions can be saved, modified and reapplied
to new tabulations at the click of a mouse.
The formatting of spreadsheets before and after
tabulation, e.g. moving and deleting columns
and rows, grouping and renaming fields, is also
possible. It allows for independent generation
of data to meet specific needs as tabulations
are done at the user's end. There is no
need to write specialized programs or code books
and depend on the IT personnel. This saves
time and costs significantly. Tables in
FASTAB can be exported as MS Excel spreadsheets
for further computing, or embedded as tables
in MS Word and in PowerPoint presentations.
Time series retrieval and
For more information, please visit the Statistics
Singapore Home Page at http://www.singstat.gov.sg
TREND, first launched in 1996, is the front-end
client for the retrieval and management of data
from the Public Access Time Series (PATS) database
maintained by the Singapore Department of Statistics.
Data in TREND are organized into frequency groups;
a group is simply a collection of series.
For example, to locate the quarterly Gross Domestic
Product data, the user would look for under
the "National Accounts" subject group and the
"Quarterly" frequency group. This hierarchical
structure is modeled after the Microsoft Windows
File Manager, which makes data identification
and retrieval simple and fast. It is also
possible to export the data from TREND to popular
applications such as Excel, SAS and SPSS.