B.  Data and metadata dissemination: an introduction

20.9.        The availability of official statistics, including statistics compiled within the framework for describing the international supply of services, is one of the cornerstones of public confidence in good governance, as such statistics can inform debate and decision-making by Governments and the wider community. The present Guide highlights the importance of countries’ adherence to the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics which, inter alia, state the following:[1]

(a) Official statistics “provide an indispensable element in the information system of a democratic society, serving the Government, the economy and the public”; 

(b) Those statistics should be made “available on an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honour citizens’ entitlement to public information”; 

(c) The statistical agencies should “facilitate a correct interpretation of the data”, and, therefore, should “present information according to scientific standards on the sources, methods and procedures of the statistics”; 

(d) The statistical agencies “are entitled to comment on erroneous interpretation and misuse of statistics”.

20.10.        In the light of those principles, the dissemination of data and metadata should be carried out with great care and attention to the needs of users while, at the same time, ensuring the adequate confidentiality of data providers. Dissemination enhances the accessibility of statistical information and constitutes an indispensable building block for the production of integrated statistics.[2] 

20.11.        Below is a brief description of several good practices that countries are advised to follow in setting up their dissemination policy:

(a) Users should be treated equally, whether national or international; 

(b) Data should be made available to all users at the same predetermined time

(c) Adequate user access to data and metadata (including information on quality of data[3] and methodologies) should be ensured, in terms of making information publicly available in a clear manner that is easy to understand and in adequate forms of dissemination; making statistics available on an impartial and timely basis; and providing prompt and knowledgeable support services to users (e.g., “frequently asked questions” and contact information for questions, as well as technical help). For a major statistical release, it is often helpful for the statistical agency to organize a press briefing covering highlights that could be used to convey significant findings, comparisons and trends to assist the media and other users in understanding and using the publications. Where feasible, special data services could be provided, including special or non-standard groupings of data items or outputs, and information on their usefulness and  costs; 

(d) An advance release schedule should be published. It is essential that the dates in the schedule be met. 

20.12.    Importance of metadata dissemination[4] The statistical agencies responsible for statistics on the international supply of services must ensure that users are able to access and correctly interpret the information about the statistical methods, concepts, variables and classifications used in producing statistical results.  Additional guidance on the dissemination of metadata is provided below: 

(a) Sufficient metadata should be made available to enable both the least and the most sophisticated users to readily access data and understand their quality. It is good practice to structure metadata in layers of incremental detail;[5] 

(b) Structural metadata should be presented as an integral part of the database and be published as part of statistical tables (e.g., in the form of flags or footnotes identifying differences in definitions, estimations and imputations, provisional values, confidentiality and break in the time series, etc.) by default, unless explicitly removed by the user. Reference metadata can be presented as a detailed explanatory note describing the scope, coverage and quality of a data set and can be made available electronically alongside the database or in special publications. In addition, compilers should make every effort to ensure that users have ready access to metadata through multiple dissemination channels, in both printed and electronic formats (in which Internet dissemination plays a key role), and be free of charge, regardless of whether the statistics they describe are disseminated for a fee in line with the compiling organization’s policies.[6] Any deviation from international standards (e.g., MSITS 2010, BPM6 or IRTS 2008) should be adequately explained to the user. Whenever feasible, it is good practice for compilers to disseminate metadata using standardized concepts that are relevant across statistical domains (e.g., by adopting cross-domain concepts from the SDMX framework, annex 4).


Next: C. Factors to consider in the dissemination of data and metadata compiled within the framework for describing the international supply of services

[1] The Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics are available from http://unstats.un.org/unsd/dnss/gp/fundprinciples.aspx.

[2] See Guidelines on Integrated Economic Statistics.

[3] See chapter 19 for more information on quality reporting.

[4] Also see chapter 18.

[5]See OECD, Data and Metadata Reporting and Presentation Handbook (Paris, OECD Publishing, 2007), p. 22.

[6] Ibid.