Chapter

2. Overview of the GDDS

Author(s):
International Monetary Fund
Published Date:
July 2007
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2.1 This chapter introduces the GDDS, as set out in the GDDS Document. The section outlines the four dimensions of the system—data, quality, integrity, and access by the public. It discusses data quality, a primary goal of the GDDS, reviews data compilation and dissemination in the GDDS, and summarizes the key operational features of the system, including the role of the country coordinator.

The GDDS Document

2.2 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. Shortly thereafter, member countries received a document, entitled The General Data Dissemination System, which represents the GDDS as approved by the IMF’s Executive Board. This document, referred to as the GDDS Document, was subsequently updated to reflect decisions taken by the Executive Board on March 29, 2000, with respect to data on external debt, the fourth review carried out by the Board on July 23, 2001, the fifth review on November 6, 2003, and the sixth review on November 2, 2005. The document is posted on the DSBB and constitutes the primary reference source on what the GDDS is and how it should be implemented.

2.3 The GDDS Document sets out objectives for data compilation and dissemination that relate to the following four properties (“dimensions”) of statistical systems, which are also summarized in Box 2.1:

  • The first dimension covers the economic, financial, and sociodemographic data that the System recommends be produced and disseminated by member countries. It is a basic tenet of the GDDS that dissemination of such data is essential to the formulation of macroeconomic policies and to the effectiveness and transparency of economic management. This dimension deals with the coverage, periodicity, and timeliness of data.

  • Quality of the data constitutes the second dimension of the GDDS. This dimension covers information that is available to help users assess the quality of the data covered by the system. Specifically, the GDDS calls for (i) dissemination of documentation on methodology and data sources, and (ii) dissemination of component detail, reconciliations with related data, and statistical frameworks.

  • Since it is essential that the user community has confidence in the data produced by statistical systems, the third dimension covers the integrity of the data. The objectivity and professionalism of the agency producing the statistics, as manifested in the transparency of its practices and procedures, are key determinants of user confidence. Within this dimension, the system identifies four key elements: (i) dissemination of the terms and conditions under which official statistics are produced; (ii) identification of internal government access to data before their release; (iii) identification of ministerial commentary on the occasion of statistical releases; and (iv) provision of information about revisions and advance notice of major changes in methodology.

  • The nature of official statistics as a public good presupposes their dissemination to users in an accessible and equitable manner, and for this reason the fourth dimension of the GDDS is access by the public. Two elements of access receive special attention in the GDDS:

    • dissemination of advance-release calendars, and

    • simultaneous release to all interested parties.

Participation in the GDDS

2.4 Participation in the GDDS by IMF member countries is voluntary. It requires that a country undertake three actions relative to the system, and participation depends on completion of these actions. These actions are:

  • Commitment to using the GDDS as a framework for the development of national systems for the compilation and dissemination of economic, financial, and sociodemographic data;

  • Designation of a country coordinator to work with IMF staff; and

  • Preparation of metadata,1 to be disseminated by the IMF on the DSBB, on (i) current statistical compilation and dissemination practices and (ii) plans for short- and medium-term improvements in each of the four dimensions of the system.

Box 2.1.The Four Dimensions of the GDDS

  • The Data—Coverage, Periodicity, and Timeliness. Dissemination of reliable, comprehensive, and timely economic, financial, and sociodemographic data is essential to the transparency of macroeconomic performance and policy.

    The GDDS therefore recommends dissemination of data as described in Table 3.1.

  • Quality. Data quality must have a high priority. Data users must be provided with information to assess quality and quality improvements. The GDDS recommends:

    • Dissemination of documentation on methodology and sources used in preparing statistics.

    • Dissemination of component detail, reconciliations with related data, and statistical frameworks that support statistical cross-checks and provide assurance of reasonableness.

  • Integrity. To fulfill the purpose of providing the public with information, official statistics must have the confidence of their users. In turn, confidence in the statistics ultimately becomes a matter of confidence in the objectivity and professionalism of the agency producing the statistics. Transparency of practices and procedures are key factors in creating this confidence. The GDDS therefore recommends:

    • Dissemination of the terms and conditions under which official statistics are produced, including those relating to the confidentiality of individually identifiable information.

    • Identification of internal government access to data before release.

    • Identification of ministerial commentary on the occasion of statistical releases.

    • Provision of information about revisions and advance notice of major changes in methodology.

  • Access by the public. Dissemination of official statistics is an essential feature of statistics as a public good. Ready and similar access by the public are principal requirements. The GDDS recommends:

    • Dissemination of advance-release calendars.

    • Simultaneous release to all interested parties.

2.5 Participation in the GDDS is publicly recognized by the IMF through the posting of the member country’s metadata on the DSBB.

2.6 Member countries that wish to participate in the GDDS should indicate their intention to participate in writing to the Director of the Statistics Department of the IMF. This communication should be from a government official who is in a position to commit the member country to the actions required for participation.

The GDDS and Data Quality

2.7 The principal goal of the GDDS is to improve data quality. In the GDDS, the term “quality” appears in two separate contexts. The first is as an attribute of the data, and in that case the term that is used is “data quality.” The second is as a dimension of the system itself, and in this context it is referred to as “quality.”

2.8 When viewed as an attribute of data, quality can have several meanings. For instance, quality might be viewed as a function of how effectively the data measure the stocks, flows, or other concepts in question. In this concept of quality, accuracy of measurement assumes great importance, and it may be possible in some cases to obtain direct estimates of the accuracy of data, such as measures of coverage for census data or sampling error for survey data. Other aspects of data quality might center on the comparability of data series over time or across sectors, and in some such cases it may be possible to develop quantitative measures of quality.2

2.9 When viewed as a dimension of the GDDS, quality has a single and unambiguous meaning. This second meaning of quality concerns the supporting information that is made available to users regarding the data and the practices in place for their production and dissemination. In this setting, users will find it helpful to have access to documentation on methodology, information regarding quality assurance practices, dissemination policies, and plans for improvement.

2.10 Specifically, the GDDS identifies as an objective the dissemination of documentation on the sources and methods used in preparing statistics and on component detail, statistical frameworks, and comparisons and reconciliations that support statistical cross-checks. Metadata prepared under the system serve as a vehicle to track improvements in quality.

Data Development, Compilation, and Dissemination

2.11 The GDDS is concerned with (i) the development of statistical systems to enable the compilation of comprehensive economic, financial, and sociodemographic data with coverage, periodicity, and timeliness appropriate to the needs of the user community and (ii) the dissemination of these data to the public. The GDDS has as its main goal improvements in the quality of the data covered by the comprehensive statistical frameworks and indicators.

2.12 It is recognized that improvements in timeliness of data compilation and dissemination may often be at the expense of data quality, and therefore the GDDS places priority on improvements in data quality over timeliness. In general, improvements in data quality do not conflict with data dissemination practices that are consistent with the system’s objectives with respect to the integrity of the data and access to them by the user community.

2.13 The term “dissemination” is used to refer to all the means by which data are made available to the public, including

  • issuing documents, such as news releases, periodicals, and special publications that are not part of a series;

  • disseminating statistics electronically—for example, on diskette, tape, compact discs (CDs), or via the Internet;

  • providing statistics in hard copy or electronic format in response to direct requests; and

  • providing access to statistics through automated telephone enquiry and/or fax systems.

2.14 Each of these means can have a role to play in a data dissemination system that meets the needs of users for timely summary data and indicators, as well as for complete data sets. Statistical development plans should ensure that the means of dissemination are continually adapted both to meet increasingly sophisticated user needs and to take advantage of technological innovations.

Key Operational Features of the GDDS

2.15 A country’s participation in the GDDS, as already noted, is voluntary. Member countries that choose to participate in the system may do so at any time and should initiate the process by indicating their intention in a communication to the Director of the Statistics Department of the IMF. Member countries that are considering participation are encouraged to seek information and guidance from IMF staff.

2.16 As noted earlier, participation involves (i) a commitment to use the GDDS as a framework for the development of national statistical systems for the compilation and dissemination of economic, financial, and sociodemographic data; (ii) designation of a country coordinator; and (iii) preparation of metadata, to be disseminated by the IMF, that describe (a) current statistical compilation and dissemination practices and (b) plans for short- and medium-term improvements in these practices.

2.17 Because the structures of statistical systems differ considerably, it would not be appropriate to provide rigid guidelines that all countries should follow regarding the methods and modalities relating to all aspects of participation. As a general rule, however, the following considerations deserve attention.

  • Commitment to use the GDDS as a framework for statistical development. This continuing process begins at the commencement of participation. Participating countries will find it helpful to focus on the range of activities that will be required to ensure that the process runs smoothly. To facilitate this process, the GDDS calls for the development of plans for improvements in data compilation and dissemination practices and for the posting of metadata describing these plans on the DSBB.

  • Designation of a country coordinator. The coordinator serves as a liaison between the member country and the IMF staff on all aspects of participation in, and implementation of, the GDDS.

  • Preparation of metadata on current practices. The descriptions of current practices and plans would correspond to each of the objectives for the data, quality, access, and integrity dimensions. A number of agencies and units will almost certainly need to be involved in this important initial step of participation in the GDDS. It is therefore requested that a standard format, described in Chapter 4, be used in the preparation of metadata that allows their electronic communication to the IMF.

  • Development of short- and medium-term plans for the development of the statistical system. In considering participation in the GDDS, a member country should concern itself with the processes through which development plans will be formulated. Ideally, the development of plans should begin with a strategic vision of the evolution of a country’s statistical system over the longer run. This vision can form the basis for the elaboration of the medium-term plans. Once formulated, the medium-term plans can be used as the basis for preparing the short-term plans.

    The metadata to be provided for posting on the DSBB should describe these short- and medium-term plans. Specifically, the metadata should indicate (i) plans for improvement that deal with identified shortcomings in data compilation and dissemination practices; (ii) recent improvements that have been implemented; or (iii) a country’s statement that no improvements are deemed necessary. The plans should identify the major shortcomings relative to the objectives set out in the GDDS for each of the four dimensions; the steps by which the shortcomings would be addressed; the resources, including technical assistance, necessary to achieve the improvements; and the time frame during which the improvements would be achieved. In particular, the improvements to be undertaken within the next year and within two to five years should be identified. Where it is believed that recent actions have resolved the basic shortcomings, the metadata should describe the actions taken—for example, introduction of new household income and expenditure surveys for consumer price indices, implementation of the recommendations of previous technical assistance, implementation of the recommendations of the Balance of Payments Manual, fifth edition (BPM5). In cases where no improvements are deemed necessary, this can simply be noted, but it would be helpful to users if the metadata included a brief statement of the reasons behind this conclusion.

  • Interagency coordination. Coordination among the concerned agencies and units is a critical element in all aspects of GDDS participation, and a participating country will need to establish effective mechanisms to ensure coordination among those involved in statistical activities. Such coordination is of critical importance for formulating a strategic vision of the country’s statistical system, identifying priority areas of action, and ensuring the maximum degree of consistency among data sets.

2.18 In view of the importance of the role played by the country coordinator (see Appendix IV), careful consideration should be given to the selection of the coordinator. While the considerations that will be appropriate in the selection of the coordinator will vary from country to country, it is essential that the coordinator have sufficient time to perform the role effectively, especially in the early stages of the process when a country is familiarizing itself with the GDDS.

2.19 Moreover, the coordinator should be an official of an agency that is well-placed to undertake this role. While it is convenient to associate the role of coordinator with an individual, it is essential to recognize that the objective of naming a coordinator is to ensure that the required coordination functions are performed effectively.

2.20 The emphasis on the role of the coordinator derives from the fact that participation in the GDDS involves a long-term commitment to achieving improvements in data quality, including data dissemination practices. Progress in these areas requires effective coordination among statistical agencies within the country and with the IMF. This coordinated approach also extends to relations with other multilateral and bilateral providers of technical assistance in statistics.

2.21 A participating country has complete discretion over the choice of the agency and official that will perform the coordination role. In making this decision, each country will need to take into account its individual circumstances and the relationships among the statistical agencies. A basic decision that needs to be made is whether the coordinator is to undertake the substantive work associated with participation in the GDDS or is expected to serve just as a liaison between the country and the IMF. The following considerations may assist in the selection of a coordinator:

  • A principal role of the GDDS coordinator is to act as the main interlocutor with IMF staff on all issues relating to participation in, and implementation of, the GDDS. In the early phase of participation, the coordinator may be called upon to ensure effective organization of the country’s involvement in the system. The tasks involved in this phase could include facilitating communications with IMF staff.

  • As a practical matter, the work of coordination will be most intense when a country has just embarked on participation in the system. Among the key tasks to be performed during this phase are (i) ensuring that officials of all concerned agencies are fully familiar with requirements for the preparation of metadata and other aspects of participation; (ii) informing the IMF staff that the country has reached the point at which it can work intensively on preparation of metadata; (iii) communicating with IMF staff on technical issues; (iv) facilitating the work with IMF staff on preparing metadata; and (v) assisting in the finalization of metadata by, among other things, facilitating communication with and among specialists in the data-producing agencies.

2.22 Once the metadata have been finalized and posted on the DSBB, the coordinator is responsible for notifying IMF staff whenever changes take place so that appropriate updates can be posted. These notifications should include, in particular, information on progress in implementing plans for improvement. The coordinator should also ensure that a thorough review of all metadata and certification of metadata accuracy is undertaken at least once a year.

Preparation of metadata includes the update of metadata as changes and improvements take place. As stated in the objectives of the GDDS (paragraph 1.11), one objective is tracking of progress under the development plans. The regular and timely updates of the metadata will assist in prioritizing the future development needs of the statistical system in its entirety.

The Statistics Department of the IMF has developed, in consultation with other interested national and international organizations, the Data Quality Assessment Framework (DQAF) for specific macroeconomic statistics. The DQAF is described on the Data Quality Reference Site on the DSBB.

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