International Statistical Review

Official Statistics - Pressures and Challenges (ISI President's Invited Lecture, 2003)

Ivan P. Fellegi

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The paper considers the pressures faced by official statistics at the present time. As such, its emphasis is on current rather than intrinsic (time independent) issues. It discusses the six specific challenges.

(1) Trust. Declining social trust poses a particular problem since their output would become close to useless without trust in statistical agencies (both in their professional competence and in their integrity to safeguard the statistical system from inappropriate political interference). However, this represents not only a pressure, but also an opportunity: governments' response to declining trust is more transparency and evidence-based decision making, which however requires trusted ''information brokers''. Possible responses to this opportunity are discussed.

(2) Privacy. Developments in information technology and the pervasive character of the Internet have sharpened concerns about privacy. Yet, our role as ''information brokers'' critically depends on intensive exploitation of administrative records and their linkage with survey information. How we respond to this challenge will be a key determinant of our increasing or declining usefulness.

(3) Social statistics. Social statistics are relatively underdeveloped-yet they are to inform decisions in an area that in most countries accounts the bulk of government expenditures. In order to be more relevant, we must shift our emphasis from measuring inputs and processes to illuminating outcomes and their underlying dynamics. Some examples of Canadian responses in this area are described.

(4) Economic statistics and globalisation. There is a tension between our activities which are national in scope, and the activities of multinational corporations. The paper explores some ideas for coping with these challenges.

(5). Environment statistics. While underdeveloped in most countries, the Kyoto accords and heightened interest in sustainability provide significant opportunities. The paper outlines the major elements of a statistical system needed to monitor sustainable development.

(6) Finally, the paper concludes with consideration of some issues facing the international statistical system.

Article information

Internat. Statist. Rev., Volume 72, Number 1 (2004), 139-155.

First available in Project Euclid: 15 March 2004

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Zentralblatt MATH identifier

Official statistics Trust Privacy Social statistics Globalisation Environment statistics International statistical system


Fellegi, Ivan P. Official Statistics - Pressures and Challenges (ISI President's Invited Lecture, 2003). Internat. Statist. Rev. 72 (2004), no. 1, 139--155.

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