Fostering statistical excellence

June 15, 2016

Statistics Canada has a long history of working with other organizations to improve statistical capacity. Providing program support and assistance is also central to the agency's commitment to international cooperation.

In April 2016, Statistics Canada marked the one-year anniversary of its latest international initiative, the Program for the Regional Advancement of Statistics in the Caribbean (PRASC). Funded through Global Affairs Canada's Caribbean Program, PRASC is a seven-year project to enhance the capacity of national statistical offices (NSOs) in 14 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.

A history of sharing

While this isn't the agency's first major technical assistance project—in 2012, Statistics Canada concluded a 12-year Statistical Information Management Project with China's National Bureau of Statistics—it is the largest to date, with a $19.5 million budget.

This is also not the agency's first initiative in the region. From 2011 to 2016, Statistics Canada led the International Statistical Fellowship Program in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, a project that focused on enhancing the governance of NSOs.

Statistics Canada's commitment to providing statistical support comes partly from its history. “Other countries helped us shape and build our first national statistical office,” said Canada's Chief Statistician, Wayne Smith. “That started to generate our interest in collaborating with other statistical offices in other countries.”

Surveying socio-economic landscapes

PRASC was developed to enhance the production of socio-economic measures and support evidence-based policy making. The program will also help to monitor key developments in the areas of economic growth, poverty, health, education and migration, at both the national and regional levels.

In April 2015, Grenada hosted the inaugural PRASC meeting to introduce the project to eligible member states. The Honourable Oliver Joseph, Minister for Economic Development, Trade, Planning, Cooperatives and International Business in Grenada welcomed the initiative, saying, “This project has the potential of steering us towards the data revolution that is most imminent, given our current challenges with our statistical systems. It is therefore up to our statisticians to take full advantage of the presence of Statistics Canada in our region over the next seven years.”

Program participants include Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Suriname, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Learning by doing

Employing a “learning by doing” approach, PRASC provides assistance in four key areas:

  • systems of national accounts—increasing adherence to international standards
  • economic statistics—strengthening business survey infrastructures
  • social statistics—strengthening household survey infrastructures
  • communication and dissemination of information.

Specialized teams of Statistics Canada experts work with NSO employees at the national and regional level to share knowledge, develop tools and improve processes.

At the regional level, seminars and workshops are organized on topics of general interest. While PRASC only funds the participation of the eligible countries, other Caribbean countries are also invited to participate. In January 2016, the first seminar, on the fundamental role of administrative data in official statistics, was held in Trinidad and Tobago.

Nationally, Statistics Canada experts provide countries with support tailored to the specific needs of each NSO. For example, in the past year, weekly virtual meetings and a few onsite visits helped the Statistical Institute of Belize to redesign the Business Establishment Survey questionnaire. For the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, the focus was on refining compilation methods for producing quarterly gross domestic product data and on conducting media-relations training.

Project planning

Identifying, prioritizing and scheduling missions for 14 countries, in four areas, over seven years, requires meticulous organization and planning. With other international development partners also providing technical assistance in the region, Statistics Canada must not only work to develop plans with each NSO, but also collaborate with partners to ensure efficient delivery of the project.

At Statistics Canada, project logistics are managed by Danielle Lalande, International Co-operation and Corporate Statistical Methods Division.

The PRASC team hopes to contribute to an established history of South–South co-operation. “We're really trying to build statistical capacity, improve current processes and provide tools to support their work. Our aim is to have an information-sharing platform where the tools are available for all countries to use,” said Ms. Lalande.

One of the PRASC project coordinators, Danielle Beaudoin also stresses the need for project sustainability: “Whatever technical assistance we provide to eligible countries, the ultimate goal is that the NSOs are able to continue to sustain these activities and capacities within their offices and their region.”

In its first year, the PRASC team developed and signed 63 Project Implementation Arrangements with 13 countries, hosted 11 in-country missions, organized five regional and sub-regional workshops, held two Project Steering Committee meetings and participated in seven events organized in the region.

Reaping even more benefits

CARICOM countries aren't the only ones benefiting from PRASC. In preparing presentations for foreign delegations, Statistics Canada experts have developed documentation that will be reused to train recruits. Removed from their usual routine, PRASC experts have to be innovative. “With a new context and new challenges, we have to think and re-examine why we do what we do. It revalidates our work here,” said Ms. Lalande.

When asked, the Statistics Canada experts working with PRASC will also tell you how much they've gained from working with their international colleagues—we learn as much as we teach.

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