We get asked a lot of questions. And we provide a lot of answers.
Every year, StatCan receives almost 50,000 requests for information, ranging from demographic (How many people live in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan?) to historical (How many pubs were in Montréal in 1886?) to business (Can you provide me with an in-depth profile of Sydney, Nova Scotia?). They also ask specific questions about surveys (What parts of this questionnaire do I fill out?), and, sometimes, just want to share a piece of their mind.
The Statistical Information Service (SIS) finds the answers. Its Contact Us team works Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in all Canadian time zones, as the front line for responding to these enquiries.
Behind the scenes
When someone calls us or sends an email to the Contact Us team, the StatCan agents make a quick judgement about the complexity of the question. They know the Statistics Canada world well enough that they can provide instant answers to questions about the gross domestic product, the Consumer Price Index, socio-demographic information, and other data available on our website.
For questions that require a little digging, agents can connect callers with a network of consulting analysts located in regional offices across Canada. The consulting analyst will provide technical advice and discuss the feasibility of specific data extractions. For questions about towns or neighbourhoods, consulting analysts may arrange for mapping experts to create geographic representations of the data. They can also create a geographic area as specified by a client and provide detailed information on the population living or working within that region.
Some of these complex questions require further research and result in cost. But, in keeping with StatCan's commitment to free data, most requests can be fulfilled without charge.
Sometimes, people call just to confirm that the survey they received is from Statistics Canada. Other times, they ask in-depth questions about surveys. On these occasions, the team puts them directly in touch with the survey operations team, a subject-matter expert or another appropriate contact. The SIS team navigates the StatCan organization on behalf of members of the public, so that they can receive the information they need in a fast and easy way.
However intricate, broad or challenging the question, the SIS gets an answer as quickly as possible.
The Contact Us team isn't the only service provided by the SIS, which works to make Canadians more familiar with Statistics Canada data. The SIS offers workshops and training sessions (both online via webinars and face-to-face) on various topics, such as accessing StatCan data, understanding survey methods, understanding and interpreting data, and working with particular surveys or datasets. In 2015, these sessions attracted about 1,000 participants, many from businesses, schools, provincial and municipal governments, federal government departments and school boards.
These outreach programs also promote awareness about the use of census and survey data in decision-making and community planning activities. Some programs support data collection activities through communication between Statistics Canada and specific groups, including Aboriginal organizations, municipalities, community groups and ethno-cultural communities. In a similar vein, the 2016 Census outreach officers will be available to answer questions in 24 different languages.
Improving our service
The wide-ranging role of the Contact Us team is part of an ongoing transformation within the SIS. When it was created, SIS' main function was to support the dissemination of census tables, but the service has expanded to cover more surveys and more complex requests.
Having all of the answers in one place creates a better experience for data users. It also helps StatCan to make its data more accessible to Canadians. When people feel comfortable requesting information, or when they attend a workshop on using datasets, this demystifies statistics.
SIS staff understand that statistics can be a bit intimidating, says Geoff Bowlby, Director General of StatCan's Collection and Regional Services Branch. "You will find our staff will be very friendly and good at educating you on what the data solution can be to your problem. Don't be afraid to contact us; we're here to help."
So, the next time you need to know the number of cattle in Alberta, the change in the price of veggies in Yukon, or the number of children aged 5 and younger in your Toronto neighbourhood, get in touch! We'll get you the information.
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