Chapter

1. Introduction to the General Data Dissemination System

Author(s):
International Monetary Fund
Published Date:
July 2007
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Background

1.1 In the aftermath of the 1994–95 international financial crisis, there was a recognition that the ready availability to the public of comprehensive and timely economic and financial data could facilitate the formulation and implementation of sound macroeconomic policies and investment decisions. These, in turn, could reduce the frequency and moderate the severity of future episodes of unusual turbulence in financial markets.

1.2 Accordingly, in April 1995 the Interim Committee of the IMF’s Board of Governors (since renamed the International Monetary and Financial Committee) requested the IMF’s Executive Board to focus on the development of standards to guide member countries in the provision of economic and financial data to the public. In October 1995, the Interim Committee endorsed the establishment of a two-tier standard, comprising a special standard to guide countries that had, or might seek, access to international capital markets and a general standard to guide all member countries.

1.3 The first tier, named the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS), was approved by the IMF’s Executive Board on March 29, 1996. Proposals for the other tier, named the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS), were considered by the IMF’s Executive Board in March 1997, and the formal decision to approve the establishment of the GDDS was taken on December 19, 1997. Since then, the following developments have taken place:

  • In January 1998, a document entitled The General Data Dissemination System, referred to as the “GDDS Document,” was issued. It constitutes the primary reference source on what the GDDS is and how it should be implemented. This document is updated regularly to reflect changes in the GDDS.

  • On February 6, 1998, the Managing Director of the IMF invited member countries that had not subscribed to the SDDS to designate a country coordinator who could serve as an interlocutor for IMF staff on all issues relating to the GDDS.

  • In June 1998, the preliminary version of this Guide was distributed to member countries.

  • During 1998–2000, the IMF organized nine regional seminars/workshops that were funded by the Japanese government and served as forums in which the GDDS was discussed and explained to officials representing the statistical agencies of the 131 IMF member countries that attended.

  • On March 29, 2000, the IMF’s Executive Board decided to include data on external debt and debt-service schedules, which had hitherto been an encouraged extension of the GDDS, as a core indicator within the external sector data category.

  • In May 2000, the IMF launched a GDDS site (http://dsbb.imf.org) on the Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB) that informs the public of each GDDS participating member country, its current statistical practices, and its plans for development of the statistical system within the GDDS framework.

  • On July 23, 2001, as part of the Fourth Review of the IMF’s Data Standards Initiatives, the Executive Board reviewed the GDDS, including the newly articulated sociodemographic data categories.

  • On November 6, 2003, the Executive Board of the IMF approved a further amendment to the GDDS to give explicit recognition to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) indicators1 and the development of appropriate statistical monitoring systems.

  • On November 2, 2005, the Executive Board2 of the IMF approved the further integration of the GDDS into the Fund’s Data Quality Program by reformatting countries’ metadata according to the Data Quality Assessment Framework (DQAF). The Directors agreed that using a common metadata structure will increase both the effectiveness and the efficiency of work on the GDDS, the data ROSC, and statistical technical assistance. The Directors noted the usefulness of the GDDS in effecting statistical reforms as part of poverty reduction strategies. To realize the maximum effect from this feature of the GDDS, they supported encouraging and assisting countries to integrate the GDDS into Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), and thus take account of statistcal reforms more systematically in their PRSP’s public expenditure plan.

  • Also on November 2, 2005, the Directors broadly endorsed the suggestion that GDDS participants be encouraged to provide additional metadata on oil and gas activities and products under the existing data categories of the GDDS. They noted this initiative would promote public knowledge and understanding of how counties incorporate oil-related market information when compiling macroeconomic indicators.

1.4 The pace of change in the needs of users of statistics in recent years, coupled with uncertainties about the direction, manner, and rate at which these needs will evolve, poses special challenges for the development of statistical systems, especially in situations in which tight resource constraints prevail. Existing international cooperative arrangements, while effective, often focus on specific statistical areas (national accounts and balance of payments, for example) rather than on the overall development of statistical systems.

1.5 As the user community finds its analytic practices being shaped to an ever greater extent by the globalization of the world’s economies, those charged with the responsibility for statistical systems must in turn find new and innovative ways to accomplish their mission of serving user needs. It was against this background that the GDDS was established, so as to assist countries in placing the development of their overall statistical systems in the broader context of emerging trends in the international statistical community and to share their own experience with other interested countries and the international user community.

Nature of the GDDS

1.6 The GDDS is a structured process through which IMF member countries commit voluntarily to improving the quality of the data compiled and disseminated by their statistical systems over the long run to meet the needs of macroeconomic analysis. Member countries that participate in the system determine themselves the priorities they will pursue in a set of statistical development plans that reflect the migration toward full realization of the objectives of the GDDS as well as a recognition of the resource and other constraints that determine the pace of the migration. The IMF supports these efforts by providing technical assistance in areas in which it has expertise and by catalyzing assistance from other sources.

1.7 The GDDS recognizes that participating member countries differ in their stages of statistical development and in their capacity to improve their statistical systems over time. Therefore, reflecting its emphasis on long-run development of statistical systems, the GDDS is not prescriptive and provides for flexibility in the pace of implementation within and across countries.

1.8 While the GDDS provides for development of statistical systems in a manner that reflects the realities of participating countries, it does so in a structured way. The system (i) contains objectives that are designed to promote orderly development of statistical systems; (ii) provides tools to diagnose areas of the statistical system that require priority attention; and (iii) supports the formulation and implementation of short- and long-run development plans, with flexibility in adapting them to changing circumstances.

1.9 The GDDS fosters sound statistical practices with respect to both the compilation and the dissemination of economic, financial, and sociodemographic statistics. It identifies data sets that are of particular relevance for economic analysis and for monitoring social and demographic developments, and sets out objectives and recommendations relating to the development, compilation, and dissemination of statistics. Particular attention is paid to the needs of users, which are addressed through guidelines relating to the quality and integrity of the data, and access by the public to the data. The objectives and recommendations of the GDDS in these areas are fully consistent with the United Nation’s Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.3

Objectives of the GDDS

1.10 As a structured process, the GDDS aims to address statistical needs. The increasing integration of economic and financial activity across countries has intensified demand for a wide range of economic and other data to underpin the task of macroeconomic management, which itself has become far more complex over time.

1.11 Accordingly, the GDDS addresses three key areas—the quality of data; development plans for statistical systems; and the dissemination of data. Together, these three priority areas constitute a solid basis on which to formulate long-run policies for statistical development.

  • Quality is used in the GDDS in two different settings: as a primary goal of the system (referred to as data quality) and as a specific dimension of the system (referred to as quality and discussed in Chapter 2). The primary objective of the system relates to the first meaning, which is as an attribute of statistical data. The primary goal of the GDDS is to ensure data quality in statistical systems, developed and maintained in ways that permit statistics to be compiled and disseminated in accordance with principles and practices that ensure high standards of excellence. Thus, the system is grounded on the application of sound methodological principles, the adoption of rigorous compilation practices, and the use of procedures that ensure professionalism and objectivity as well as adequate dissemination of statistics. The GDDS is not intended to address cases where timeliness is of the essence—rather, it focuses on building the capacity to disseminate quality statistics, which is an appropriate long-run goal for all statistical systems. Moreover, the attainment of this goal should ensure that, in the future, data that must be used in cases where timeliness is the main priority will be far more useful than would otherwise be the case. It is in this broad context of data quality that the Statistics Department of the IMF has developed the DQAF. Information on the DQAF can be found on the Data Quality Reference Site: http://dsbb.imf.org.

  • Development plans in the GDDS focus on viewing the statistical system in its entirety. In this way, the task of establishing priorities is simplified, and resource allocation becomes more efficient. The development plans in the GDDS cover (i) a diagnosis of the current situation and the formulation of a strategic vision of future directions; (ii) the elaboration of a detailed action plan that identifies all the resources that are required to achieve the desired objectives; and (iii) the tracking of progress under these plans.

  • Dissemination of data is the ultimate objective of any statistical system. Accordingly, the GDDS attaches special importance to the procedures used to disseminate data. A major area of emphasis is the choice of appropriate and impartial methods of dissemination.

Role of the GDDS

1.12 The role of the GDDS is to facilitate the development of statistical systems of IMF member countries. One way in which it fulfills this role is by providing a framework for channeling technical assistance resources in an optimal fashion and in a way that complements initiatives taken at the national level. By combining in a focused way the resources and technical knowledge of the international statistical community with those available at the domestic level, the pace of statistical development can be accelerated, and priorities appropriately identified and modified as needed.

1.13 Another way in which the GDDS facilitates the development of statistical systems is through the dissemination on the DSBB of information (metadata) on the statistical practices and development plans of participating countries. Such information, which would be difficult for users to obtain through other means, enables countries that are contemplating changes in their statistical systems to learn from the experiences that other countries in similar circumstances have already documented. From the perspective of the user community, the DSBB provides a valuable body of information regarding the state of statistical development in member countries and the plans that have been adopted for future improvements. The GDDS also allows closer communication between users and compilers of statistics. In many countries, GDDS metadata provide the only source of contact information for users to give feedback on statistics.

1.14 The GDDS also promotes closer contact and coordination among the various agencies engaged in statistical activities in a participating country. In addition, GDDS metadata stimulate closer contact of statistical compilers across countries.

See United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD), Millennium Indicators Database at http://millenniumindicators.un.org.

See the IMF Executive Board’s Sixth Review of the Fund’s Data Standards Initiative (see http://www.imf.org/external/np/sta/dsbb/list.htm).

The Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics can be accessed on the Internet at http://unstats.un.org/unsd/goodprac/bpabout.asp; the document is reproduced in Appendix I of this Guide. The United Nations’ Statistics Division (UNSD) has also established a website (http://esa.un.org/unsd/goodprac/bpabout.asp) on good practices in official statistics. The site provides reference material on the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. It elaborates on the essential elements behind each of these principles and provides examples of policies and practices followed by various countries for implementing the various elements of the Principles (including hypertext links to the relevant statistical agency websites).

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