The German-Chinese Projects on
User Oriented Data Dissemination and International Data Supply
Head of Department
Federal Statistical Office of Germany
It is my great pleasure to present the second paper in this session on capacity building.
The improvement and building-up of statistical capacities is, indeed, the basic objective of all co-operative activities in which German and Chinese statisticians have been engaged over more than ten years of close co-operation. The following presentation is focussed, however, on our joint efforts to strengthen the capacities of the Chinese statistical system as an information provider to a wide spectrum of users: government institutions, international organizations, business associations, and, last but not least, to the general public, nationally and internationally.
In addition, our joint efforts had to take into account newly emerging demands. As an example I may give the demand for statistics which allow the comparison of Chinese economic and demographic data with respective data from other countries and vice versa in a more global context.
Consequently, statistical capacity building in the field of user oriented data provision is all about identifying user needs, designing products which best serve these needs, anticipating future demand and utilizing all means of data publication and presentation as effectively as possible, and always in close contact with the user community.
Initial Situation and Requirements to be met by Statistics
Our joint efforts respond to a situation which is characterized by rapid developments as China is emerging as a fast growing market economy and as global economic player. This means that further improvements in the basic set of reliable information are essential for the economy of the People's Republic of China to develop successfully. Governmental decision-makers and private investors will be able to avoid false decisions and the resulting economic losses only if they can rely on the figures of official statistics, which are of relevance to them. A set of reliable and timely statistics is a necessary prerequisite for an overall control in a market economy.
By adopting a statistics reform program and, more recently, by undertaking noticeable efforts to improve the quality and transparency of China's statistics, the Chinese government has stressed how much importance it attaches to statistics for ensuring a sustainable economic development. China's accession to the WTO in December 2001 has increased the world-wide need for standardised information about the socio-economic conditions of the PR of China. In this context, it has to be pointed out, in particular, that in April 2002 China adopted the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which obliges the member countries to undertake strong efforts in order to make sure that their statistics are in line with internationally recognised methodological standards, meeting the needs for timeliness, reliability and objectivity. This will be a separate topic in tomorrows sessions.
User Oriented Data Dissemination
The first major effort to strengthen the user orientation of the Chinese statistical system was a component of the joint project on the „Reorganization of Industrial and Transport Statistics¡°. Mrs. Moore of the FSO presented to you this morning the goals and achievements of that project.
Th target group of that component of the project consisted of public (governmental) and private decision makers. These are users that take decisions either on macro-economic policies or on corporate strategies on the micro-economic level. The objective was to improve their stock of basic information on changes in industry and transportation. Three approaches were employed to achieve the objective of introducing effective methods of user oriented data provision:
• Efforts were made to establish regular user contacts. The institutionalization of user contacts is a means of ensuring an ongoing dialogue with major user groups. Thus, existing and emerging information needs can be taken into account in the development of new products such as publications or in the development of new dissemination and access technologies such as the internet or public data banks. Regular user contacts are necessary to get feed back on the quality of one¡¯s user services and, thus, can serve to improve customer relations and, eventually, the public image of a statistical system.
The development of user friendly and regular publications and the presentation of results nationally and internationally can be seen as a result of regular user contacts. They are also an important means of ensuring a good public image as a service-oriented information provider.
Let me give you a short overview on the actions which served as input to achieve the afore-mentioned objective:
First a seminar was held in Munich in 1998 for 21 statisticians from the NBS and the provincial offices. The topic was „User Needs¡°. The seminar imparted basic knowledge on information needs of different user groups, on the design of publications, on techniques of providing data on the Internet, the preparation of press releases, marketing strategies and pricing policies.
Secondly, I conducted an expert mission in 2000 to the NBS to consult on how to identify emerging user needs in the context of our joint project. We wanted to assess and categorize user needs and find out what improvements they expect from the transformation of Chinese industrial and transport statistics. A comprehensive questionnaire was sent in advance to our discussion partners and individual interviews were conducted with representatives of major user groups.
Thirdly, in connection with this mission, a seminar was held for users and producers of official statistics from government agencies and ministries, including those ministries which were in the process of conversion to become business associations or semi-public agencies.
Fourthly, we conducted a joint training seminar in Suzhou in 2002 for 36 statisticians from the NBS and provincial offices. We presented and discussed concepts and methods of user-oriented dissemination, including innovative technological solutions in order to foster the service-mindedness and user orientation in China¡¯s system of official statistics.
• strengthening the open information policy of the NBS and extending it to the level of the provincial offices
• raising public awareness of official statistics as a major information provider
• strengthening the public image of official statistics as being objective, accurate, up-to-date and readily accessible.
Although these objectives require long-term efforts we have already seen major improvements in the course of the project and it is evident, that the Chinese statistical system is making steady progress in its efforts to keep up with changing demands of the market economy and global orientation.
International Data Supply
This leads me to the aspect of international data supply. In 2001, the NBS suggested to us a joint 3-year project on international statistics called PIS, which should start in 2002. This project was to be conducted within our bilateral co-operation program which exists since 1993. The idea was very innovative: The PIS was the first real project within our bilateral program which until then had comprised a broad spectrum of topically unrelated activities. The Project on International Statistics is to be regarded in connection with China¡¯s then new membership of the WTO which, of course, created a new demand for international comparison based on statistical results. The Federal Statistical Office of Germany has for many years collected and disseminated statistical results on more than 120 countries and was, thus, the partner of choice for a joint project on International statistics.
The terms of reference of the project were established by an agreement which was signed by representatives of both institutions. The objectives were identified as
1) the improvement of the identification and collection of international data. This implies a systematic approach in accessing international data sources. The aim is to compile relevant and comparable statistics on the demographic, social and economic conditions and developments in other countries.
2) user-friendly dissemination of international statistics. This implies e.g. using new technologies of data dissemination and access such as the internet and providing comparative analyses to government decision makers.
3) building an international database for internal and external users.
The project is being conducted in three phases.
The aim of the first phase was to assist our Chinese partners in identifying and utilizing international data sources in a systematic way and to establish an infrastructure and procedures for data administration.
The aim of the second phase was to design and improve print publications and to establish an internet-website with international data.
The aim of the third phase is to establish a database of international results as a component of the integrated system of NBS databases.
The aspect of user orientation is, of course, part of all activities of the project.
We conduct two activities per year, one mission by NBS statisticians to Germany and one mission by German experts to China. The progress of the project is monitored by reports on the results of each mission. A detailed progress report which compares the concrete results of activities with the terms of reference is jointly prepared on the conclusion of each project phase.
To date, we have conducted two study visits to Germany and three consulting missions to China.
Let me give you some more information on the contents of our project activities:
For the identification of international data sources, the web-sites and public data bases of major international organizations such as the UN, OECD and the European Commission were accessed. Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU was visited and discussions were held with their experts in charge of data dissemination. In addition, data from national sources such as the Statistical Yearbooks of other countries was analyzed in terms of its utilization for building up the international data supply of the NBS. In a second step, an infrastructure and procedures were established for a systematic administration of the data sources. As concerns the establishment of an international database, our Chinese colleagues proved to be highly proficient in utilizing advanced technologies. The German side, therefore concentrated on giving advice on the structure and contents of the data input rather than on technological matters. As the project now stands, the international database will be an integrated part of the NBS system of databanks which seems to us an excellent solution. A major focus of our consultation is on the operation of a user-oriented information service. We are assisting our Chinese partners in establishing and operating a user help desk. In addition, we have provided information on how to record, categorize and analyze user requests as a means of market research on present and future user needs. As concerns the design of publications, major progress has been achieved in improving the International Statistical Yearbook of the NBS in terms of more content, an earlier publication date and providing a bi-lingual (Chinese and English) version. A focus of our future activities will be on the design of the web-site with international statistics.
We have already achieved concrete results in all components of the project on international statistics.
The project is, thus, well on the way to achieve all its objectives as delineated in the terms of reference and in the joint agreement of 2001.
One important aspect has to be mentioned:
We are convinced that true partnership in project co-operation is always of benefit to both partners. Just as our Chinese counterparts have learnt from our experience we have learnt from their innovative approaches. One example may stand for many: As a result of our project co-operation, the Federal Statistical Office has emulated the Chinese example to publish a bilingual version of its national and international Statistical Yearbooks.
Let me conclude by stating that our joint efforts in building up the data provision capacities of the Chinese statistical system have already achieved a large number of concrete results. To achieve and to sustain user orientation is an ongoing process. Statistical offices need to maintain a fruitful dialogue with their users. They need to be on the lookout for emerging user groups and new user needs. They need to spot and utilize technological advancements. In this respect, there is still work to be done. One can say, that this work will never be completed and we cannot rest on our laurels.
We, therefore, look forward to continue to assist our Chinese partners to meet these challenges and we are confident that our joint efforts will continue to be of mutual benefit.