Statistics Canada’s Approach to
Technical Cooperation with the
National Bureau of Statistics of China
Paper by Statistics Canada
April 26, 2004
This paper reflects Statistics Canada’s general approach to technical cooperation and details it in the context of our cooperation with the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBS).
The design of this cooperation program was compatible not only with CIDA’s requirements but also with most of the provisions of the United Nations Guiding Principles for Good Practices in Technical Cooperation for Statistics.
These principles call for “demand-led programs, based on assessment of user requirements and relative priorities”. Consultations on the nature and content of the program took place not only between the two statistical bureaux, but also other organizations, such as the National Planning Board, the Ministry of Finance, the People’s Bank of China, Beijing University and the Statistical Society of China.
The program was “set within a well balanced overall strategic framework and work programme for national statistical development”, and “considered human and other resource development strategies, and organizational and institutional development needs, as well as historical work areas”, as suggested by the UN Guidelines. The program had organizational, statistical and infrastructure components, including a project on human resources development.
In order to ensure that the goals and contemplated outputs of the program would be achieved, Statistics Canada and the NBS jointly developed a set of principles as guidelines for the pursuit of the program. It was agreed that:
1. Activities should contribute to improvements in the Chinese statistical system in terms of:
• Relevance, meaning whether the available data addressed emerging market-economy requirements;
• Accuracy of data published;
• Timeliness of data releases;
• Accessibility of data; and
• Efficiency of the statistical system.
Potential activities which did not clearly and concretely support at least one of these objectives were not pursued.
2. Activities to be undertaken within the program should directly support NBS’ own broad priorities.
This was ensured by senior management’s involvement in the program design.
3. Projects in the program should be goal-oriented with clearly defined outputs.
This principle was fully complied with.
4. Before the commencement of a project, the NBS should help Statistics Canada by providing a brief historical background and a clear picture of the existing situation, recent developments, problems encountered and future plans with regard to the area in which the two bureaux plan to work together. For statistical projects, this information should include a full description of issues, such as data collected and published, methodology used, collection procedure, processing, periodicity, timeliness, geographical breakdown, main users and their needs.
It is a credit to the NBS that it fully complied with this provision.
5. In order to achieve maximum international coordination, full information on current or contemplated activities of other donors should be made available by the NBS prior to the commencement of work in any particular area. Such information should be kept up to date.
The NBS complied with this requirement also. However, efforts stopped at avoiding duplications, and no real effort was made for collaboration or complementarity. While this is easier to recommend than to achieve, it would add to the effectiveness of cooperation if these possibilities were explored and pursued more actively.
6. The guiding principles of the program, and the aims of each project, should be fully discussed with participating divisions on both the Canadian and Chinese sides.
Since both the Canadian and Chinese participants in the program are committed to their regular work, it is important to ensure, prior to embarking upon a project, that the appropriate staff will be made available. As a rule in Statistics Canada, when a division commits itself to participation, this additional work becomes part of their overall work program, and must be taken just as seriously as their regular duties.
7. Results of work to be undertaken within the program should be sustainable. Before work in any particular area commences, the NBS should assess and confirm that the results achieved will be maintained or utilized after the completion of work, and that the budgetary resources to this end are assured. These conclusions should be incorporated in a document to be signed by an Assistant Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada and a Deputy Director-General of the NBS. The signing of such documents is required for any work element which is expected to result in a sustainable outcome. Several work elements can be covered by a single document if practical.
Statistics Canada is convinced that the overall effectiveness of technical cooperation in the field of statistics, and probably also in a broader context, has been seriously compromised by the fact that aid programs generally do not contain provision for limited, but invariably necessary, follow-up support.
Very often a project, upon its completion, appears to be successful, with every prospect of being sustained, but, for a variety of reasons, problems arise that may threaten its sustainability if additional assistance from the cooperation partner is not opportunely available. Such help could be offered on a standby basis for a limited period of time, and in most cases would take the form of advice or problem solving. To address this contingency, Statistics Canada would like to see that future programs provide the necessary funds for this follow-up support, and contain provisions requiring the organization being assisted to report, to the cooperation partner, on the continued conduct of the project for a mutually agreed to period beyond the formal end of the project.
8. It is desirable that consultations be undertaken with key Chinese users of any statistics to be developed or improved as part of the program, because users’ views may become important ingredients for making the results of the program practical and user-oriented.
As already mentioned earlier, this requirement was also fulfilled. In addition, the two Policy Seminars that Statistics Canada organized as part of the cooperation program, involved the active participation of a number of organizations other than the NBS.
9. Most cooperative activities should be performed in such a way that Statistics Canada’s experts work directly with NBS’ experts in the achievement of the projects goals.
This principle was followed whenever it was possible. Typically, a project was designed in such a way that activities took place both in the NBS and in Statistics Canada.
10. Participating technical personnel should be identified, and their suitability and availability ensured well in advance.
This principle was intended to avoid breaks in continuity and to promote a fuller understanding of the objectives of a given project by all participants. Frequent changes of participants, even if they come from the same area, can have a negative effect on the project.
11. Training to be offered by Statistics Canada should be project-oriented. Staff members who receive training within a project should either already have, or have been designated to assume, definite responsibilities in the area that the joint activity is expected to target.
Generally speaking, Statistics Canada does not favour training courses for a larger number of people, who are not involved in a specific project. On the other hand, we offer very intensive training to those who are involved in a project, which is part of the cooperation program.
12. Acknowledging that an effective training program is a high priority for any progressive organization, strengthening NBS’ training capacity is recognized as a substantive project by itself.
Of course, Statistics Canada does not oppose the general training of large numbers of people, but takes the view that this may not be the best use of the limited funds available for a cooperation program. However, we are very much in favour of offering assistance to strengthening training capacity, which we have done in China, and in a number of other countries.
13. In relation to any project, appropriate training should also be given to the person(s) who could continue the work in case the original trainee is no longer available for the performance of the task.
We think this is a very important aspect of the cooperation. It may happen, for various reasons, that the people we trained are no longer available for the work they were trained for. This is particularly dangerous after a project is completed. If a replacement, who can immediately step into the shoes of the departing person, cannot be found, the project could collapse. The use of a relatively small proportion of available funds to address this eventuality could avoid the problem.
14. It should be ensured that both women and men have equal opportunities to participate in the program.
Today, we might word this principle somewhat differently, and refer to it as gender equity. We used two approaches in this respect. Efforts were made to involve both women and men in the projects. The overall participation rate of women in the whole program was 30%. Then, in our pilot household survey, wherever possible, data were collected separately for each gender.
15. According to CIDA’s policies, equipment can be provided, within the framework of the program, only in direct support of substantive projects. It is recognized that funds available even under these circumstances are limited.
The fundamental purpose of the cooperation was knowledge transfer. In the early stages of the program, the NBS was in need of some equipment, and modest funds were made available for their purchase, when their availability was critical for the conduct and success of a project. However, lately this has become less of an issue, since the NBS is increasingly well equipped.
16. Provision in the work program should be made for limited consultancies for two years after the completion of a project in order to assist NBS in the solution of any unforeseen problems, and thus ensure the sustainability of the project in questions.
This topic already has been referred to. This is the only principle that has not been complied with as contemplated. However, should new funds become available for the continuation of cooperation with the NBS, a small portion of these should be reserved for this standby service.
17. In order to monitor progress, a written report should be submitted after the completion of each distinct work element. The report should include such information as the purpose of the work undertaken, topics addressed, results achieved and future actions contemplated.
This principle has regularly been followed throughout the program.
18. After the completion of each project, a written report should be prepared jointly by Statistics Canada and the NBS. Such reports should include a full documentation of the work performed, covering the justification for the project, the processes followed, the problems encountered, the results achieved, the comments of users as applicable, the cooperative actions with other donors, the costs incurred, and any other relevant aspects which are important to note.
Since most of the projects were completed approximately at the same time, some of these reports are still in preparation, while others are already completed.
19. It is necessary that an accurate record of both Canadian and Chinese contributions to the program be kept up to date in conformity with CIDA’s requirements.
Both parties fulfilled this obligation.
20. Each project should be jointly evaluated by Statistics Canada and the NBS.
Evaluation was the last activity of each project. A more general, overall evaluation was conducted by CIDA’s independent expert, who concluded that the program was successful.
The provisions of the Principles were put into practice by means of “Project Initiation Agreements”. These were documents which identified a project in clear terms, and stated a concrete and achievable output. Such an Agreement contained a detailed schedule, spelling out responsibilities of each party, and providing for step-by-step deadlines. Each agreement was signed, as required by the Principles, by a Deputy Commissioner of the NBS and by an Assistant Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada. This ensured the commitment of senior management on both sides. While, in the course of the execution of the program, it happened rarely that these officials needed to be personally involved, in a few instances, their intervention was necessary to resolve problems in a quick and efficient manner.
The larger projects also involved the establishment of Steering Committees made up by representatives of each of the two statistical bureaux, which met periodically to review progress, and take corrective action if needed.
There was also an umbrella committee, the Joint Program Steering Committee, made up of representatives of Statistics Canada, NBS, CIDA, and MOFTEC. This Committee met once a year and exercised general overview, including the formal approval of annual work programs and budgets.
After every mission to each other’s countries, and after every committee meeting, reports were prepared, summarizing the discussions, and elaborating on work to be performed in the following period.
With regard to overall day-to-day program management, various models were considered at the beginning of the activities. One possibility was to place a Canadian official permanently in Beijing. However, a different model was adopted, with a Program Coordinator, who accompanied the Canadian participants to China, but was otherwise stationed in Ottawa. The logic underlying this arrangement was that the coordination function also had to be performed in Statistics Canada. The Coordinator maintained close and frequent contacts with the NBS Program Director. The drawback of this arrangement was the need for frequent travel on the part of the Coordinator, which occasionally resulted in personal hardship. From a financial point of view, the Coordinator’s travel cost were substantial, but were still less than paying the various foreign service allowances.
The National Bureau of Statistics of China has indicated its interest in entering a new round of cooperation, and Statistics Canada indicated its readiness to comply. Since funding must be received from the Canadian International Development Agency, it will depend on their decision, and their Minister’s approval, whether this will be possible.
Should a new program start, Statistics Canada’s approach would be basically unchanged. We would prefer intensive work on a relatively small number of projects, with concrete outputs and strong managerial support. In a new program, we intend to intensify the cooperation not only with the NBS, but also with those policy departments and agencies which would be the main beneficiaries of new or improved data. For example, if a new program requires a response to poverty-related issues, we would also consult with the Leading Group on Poverty Alleviation. Similarly, if there is a need to improve information on the environment, we would discuss the project design with the State Environmental Protection Agency as well. In a more international context, we would also like to maximize the possibilities of improved donor cooperation and collaboration.
Before closing, we would like to acknowledge that the experiences gained in the cooperation with the NBS has had a positive impact of Statistics Canada’s cooperation efforts with other developing countries.