Consulting users

April 15, 2015

Statisticians, in the Hollywood view of life, are so consumed with number crunching that they get lost in the data, and find it hard to relate to the outside world. 

Life at StatCan, however, is quite different from the movies.

We never stop talking, asking, probing and sharing. We talk before, during, and after surveys― this creates dialogue. We ask questions about our questions―this provides feedback. We probe into how we are doing—this validates relevance. And we share what we discover—this adds value.

Here is a tale of two divisions and the ways they reach out to clients.

Health talk

Among the important data that StatCan collects, the work of the Health Statistics Division particularly touches the lives of Canadians. The division produces a range of statistical health information, including Health Indicators, Vital Statistics, Canadian Cancer Registry, Canadian Health Measures Survey and the Canadian Community Health Survey.

The division consults extensively. “We try to make sure the membership on our committees is representative not just of one type of expertise, but brings in many different points of view,” says Josée Begin, director of the Health Statistics Division.

For instance, when designing the next Canadian Health Survey on Children and Youth, the division consulted in-person with federal, provincial and territorial health partners across the country, and also sought written input from its stakeholders. They also sought input outside the health domain, in particular, from advisory committees in the education and justice domains, and asked for their top three recommendations and priorities for children’s health. “Even though they are not in the health domain, there is a link between health, education and justice, so that is another way to get feedback and advice on content,” she adds.

The result from all the consultations was a possible six hours of interviews, which were gradually pared to a 40-minute pilot survey.

In another example, Health Indicators, created in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Health Information, is a compilation of over 80 indicators that measure health status, non-medical determinants of health, health-system performance and characteristics. The indicators are produced at the health-region level, as well as at provincial, territorial and national levels.

Consultations on indicators go back to 1998, when over 500 people—health administrators, researchers, caregivers, government officials, health advocacy groups, and consumers—were brought together to identify health information needs. One of their priorities was to have access to comparable quality data on key health indicators for health and health services. Priorities and directions for the health indicator project have been revisited at subsequent conferences every five years.

The Canadian Community Health Survey is another key health survey that involves broad consultation with stakeholders and users. The provinces and territories are also consulted through advisory committees. Any changes to the survey—whether in terms of the content or the sampling methodology—has to be approved by a committee of three assistant deputy ministers from Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada. 

Business talk

Another Statistics Canada division, the Manufacturing and Wholesale Trade Division, is also in constant touch with key stakeholders.

“The flow goes both ways. We can help them to understand the data better. They can help us to understand the industry better,” says Andy Kohut, director of the Manufacturing and Wholesale Trade Division.

The explosion of information on the Internet means that clients can get information from many sources; with some more dependable than others. “It is important to identify the key users and establish an ongoing relationship. If they are preparing a presentation in a hurry, we want them to think of Statistics Canada first. We want to set up networks to make it easy for data users to know who to call so we break down barriers to getting the data.”

The same information explosion makes it a lot easier to validate data, and to learn the issues that should be addressed. Internet scans of media articles, research papers and speeches are readily available online, and supplement the regular meetings at the provincial and territorial level, industry associations, academics and international statistical agencies.

Survey respondents, particularly from the large industries, are also included in outreach. “We want them to understand how important their company is to an industry or a province or the national picture so that they take their reporting seriously and provide us with good quality data.”

These consultations do bring concrete changes. For example, a review of the energy statistics program identified gaps in the current program, and new and emerging issues, such as renewable energy or shale oil, and also gave a sense of the priorities. To be more responsive to both data users and suppliers, the collection of some types of information was eliminated and replaced with new types of information.

Right things

Whether it is the health of Canadians or the health of the economy, each division undergoes broad and regular consultations. Regular review means that every program takes an organized strategic approach to planning, and adjusts its course as needed.

“Are we doing the right things and are we doing things right?” is a question often posed by Chief Statistician Wayne R. Smith. 

Statistics Canada’s commitment to provide its users and stakeholders with high quality data makes broad and regular consultations an important part of the equation.

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