Academic journal article Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland

Safeguarding Trust in Irish Official Statistics: A Code of Practice for the Irish Statistical System

Academic journal article Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland

Safeguarding Trust in Irish Official Statistics: A Code of Practice for the Irish Statistical System

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

In November 2011, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform published their plan 'Public Service Reform' (DPER, 2011) which outlined how customer services and public sector efficiency was to be improved over the coming four or five years. This plan explicitly recognized that good quality data and information was essential to deliver on these ambitions. As part of this plan, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) was assigned the task of developing 'a code of practice and standards for the gathering and use of data for statistical purposes in the Public Service' (2011, p.10). The Code of Practice for the Irish Statistical System outlined in this paper addresses this directive.

The Code of Practice for the Irish Statistical System will also help to align national practices with European norms. While a code of practice for official European statistics has been established for almost a decade (14), a national code of practice providing guidance on the compilation of official statistics has never been put in place. The aim of the code outlined in this paper, is to provide a set of simple guidelines or rules that are designed to synchronise standards across all official statistics in Ireland and not just those published by CSO. The Code of Practice for the Irish Statistical System is consistent with, but only a subset of the European code, reflecting the current maturity and absorptive capacity of the Irish Statistical System.

Although the idea of an 'Irish Statistical System' was clearly envisaged in the drafting of the 1993 Statistics Act, the concept was first clearly articulated by the National Statistics Board NSB) in their seminal 2003--2008 'Strategy for Statistics' (NSB, 2003a). Ten years later the publication of that strategy, the launch of the Code of Practice for the Irish Statistical System is another important milestone in the formal development and acknowledgement of that system. To support the code, a new website (www.isscop.ie) has been launched along with a formal logo to help brand the code and the system itself.

This paper is presented in seven sections. The first section provides a brief history of the development of the Irish Statistical System over the past ten years. This is followed by a more formal explanation of the Irish Statistical System. The following sections then explain what official statistics are and why a code of practice is needed. Some international comparisons are provided for comparative purposes. The Code of Practice for the Irish Statistical System is then summarised and some future plans regarding implementation are outlined.

2. THE EMERGENCE OF AN 'IRISH STATISTICAL SYSTEM'

In 2003 the National Statistics Board, the statutory body charged with guiding the strategic direction of official statistics in Ireland, published a 'Strategy for Statistics' covering the period 2003--2008 (NSB, 2003a). Recognising the rapidity of change within society and the economy, the thrust of this medium-term strategy centred on the need to develop a coherent 'whole-system' approach to the compilation of official statistics in an 'information age' and argued that a fundamentally new approach was required.

In broad terms, the NSB proposed that a statistical system must be: needs driven; user oriented; quality certified; and cost effective. Costs in particular, pose a challenge, as Ireland's small size prohibits economies of scale, making statistical surveys comparatively expensive. However it had long been recognised that various Government Departments and State Agencies held 'islands' of potentially useful administrative data. Consequently, one of the fundamental tenets of the NSB report was to 'harness all the potential of existing data sources'. It was also recognised that, with a growing emphasis on Government transparency and accountability a statistical system must be able to support 'evidence-based policy making' and permit objective policy and performance evaluation. …

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