Data dissemination and communication

Scope and purpose
Principles
Guidelines
Quality indicators
References

Scope and purpose

Dissemination is the release of data obtained from a statistical activity to users through various media. For each data release there is also a need to effectively communicate the data to data users and a requirement to make known the availability of the release.  The Statistics Canada website (www.statcan.gc.ca) is the Agency's principal dissemination channel. The Agency also releases its information in other formats designed to suit the needs of particular users. One release for a single statistical program may include an article in The Daily, data tables (e.g. CANSIM or Summary tables), publications, electronic publications and metadata all made available at the same time.  Dissemination can also take the form of microdata, a response to a special request, public speech, presentation or television or radio interview.

Principles

The objectives of dissemination and related communications activities are to maximize the use of Statistics Canada information and to ensure relevance of Statistics Canada by:

  • responding to user needs when developing and disseminating information;

  • increasing access to information by disseminating directly and through other organizations; and

  • providing maximum access to information of broad interest, free of charge, while recovering the costs of providing specialized information and of sustaining an appropriate delivery infrastructure.

These objectives are fundamental to communicating the relevance of Statistics Canada's activities to Canadian households, businesses, institutions, other statistical agencies, other federal government departments, and to the provinces and territories, and to obtain their support for the Agency's collection activities. Most of these objectives are achieved by Statistics Canada's Policy on Dissemination, Communications and Marketing Services (Statistics Canada, 1985). The following guidelines also refer to several other related policies.

Guidelines 

Release of statistical information

  • Statistics Canada will authorize the release of microdata files for public use when the release substantially enhances the analytic value of the data collected and the Agency is satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken to prevent the identification of particular survey units (Policy on Microdata Release; Statistics Canada, 1987).

  • As outlined in the Policy on Media Relations (Statistics Canada, 2003a), it is the Agency's policy to accept media requests for interviews and to provide comments and data interpretation. Off-the-record background briefings or interviews are not permitted under any circumstance.

  • From time to time, erroneous statements about Statistics Canada and its programs or policies, or misinterpretations of data, may appear in the media. In these events, the Agency shall promptly assess the impact of the error and determine the most effective approach by which to respond. Survey managers are encouraged to communicate with the appropriate staff in the Communications and Library Services Division for media training and assistance should it be necessary to clarify a media story.

  • Where data validation by an external organization is necessary and where significant benefits to data quality are anticipated or have been previously demonstrated, unreleased non-confidential information may be provided to external organizations for purposes of validation before its official release in The Daily, under conditions laid down in the Policy on The Daily and Official Release (Statistics Canada, 2008a).

  • The production and publication of estimates with future reference dates (frequently referred to as projections or forecasts) is a legitimate part of Statistics Canada's mandate. Such estimates must be released in accordance with the Policy on Estimates with Future Reference Dates (Statistics Canada, 2004a).

Preparation

  • All publications that present statistical information and/or analytical findings shall contain a "highlights" section (Policy on Highlights of Publications; Statistics Canada, 2004b).

  • Preparation of data to be released from a statistical activity's source file usually involves many steps. Verify and ensure that released data, after all the processing steps, are consistent with the source data obtained. In the case of regrouped data or derived variables this means that one should be able to reproduce the same results from the source data.

  • Thoroughly review all releases and underlying products prior to publication from the perspectives of soundness of the data and analysis, appropriateness of the treatment, appropriateness for publication by the Agency, and communications effectiveness.

  • Automated tools such as Smart Publishing and automated text comparison software should be used where appropriate to reduce the risk of human error.

  • Avoid, as much as possible, preparing the products (i.e. preliminary drafts) while still processing data.

  • Develop a dissemination product consistent in style and formatting to other Statistics Canada products: this will assist in its use. Articles written to summarize key findings, trends and contextual information for a general audience should be written according to the Guidelines on Writing for The Daily.

  • All statistical products must be accompanied by or make explicit reference to documentation on quality and methodology. This documentation must make available to users indicators of the quality of data and descriptions of the underlying concepts and methodology (Policy on Informing Users of Data Quality and Methodology; Statistics Canada, 2000).

Verification

  • Have written products reviewed by someone who was not involved in the statistical activity.

  • Thoroughly double-check numbers, reference periods (e.g. "in the last six months" and "compared to last quarter") and words that depict trends (e.g. "increase" and "drop") in articles and publications to make sure they are accurate.

  • Avoid repeating numbers provided in tables in the text; otherwise make sure they are the same.

  • Verify numbers in articles and publications against those provided in other tabular products (e.g. CANSIM and Summary tables).

  • Test all links in an electronic product before release to ensure that they perform as planned.

  • Products are to be disseminated simultaneously in both languages (Official Languages Policy; Statistics Canada, 2004c). Ensure that text in both languages is of high quality and that data and text are consistent in both languages. An automated text comparison tool is available to authors on Statistics Canada's intranet (Statistics Canada, 2008b).

  • All information products, and especially interpretative, analytical and methodological products, for which Statistics Canada is solely or jointly responsible, are subject to review prior to release outside the Agency. The review should ensure that their content is compatible with the Agency's mandate as a government statistical agency, and that they adhere to the generally accepted norms of good professional practice (Policy on the Review of Information Products (Institutional and Peer Review); Statistics Canada, 2003b).

Quality indicators

Main quality elements:  accessibility, timeliness, relevance

  • Describe the availability of products at different levels of detail, formats and media. This indicates whether the statistical information is accessible to a variety of users and for a variety of needs.

  • Report the time lag between announcement of the release date and the release of products. Announcing release dates for products in advance enables equal access to all users.

  • Report the time lag from the reference date or period to the release of the product. This indicates whether the product is timely with respect to users' needs.

  • Report the time lag between scheduled release date and actual release date.  This is a measure of the punctuality of the product.

  • Document the occurrence of errors detected during the editing step just prior to the release of products. Errors detected so late in the production of statistical information indicate a higher risk of having to correct other errors after release.

  • Document the occurrence of errors detected after release.

  • Monitor how frequently information products are accessed by users over time.  A decline in the product's relevance could be indicated by a decline in user activity.

References

Statistics Canada. 1987. "Policy on Microdata Release." Statistics Canada Policy Manual. Section 4.2. Last updated March 4, 2009.

Statistics Canada. 2000. "Policy on Informing Users of Data Quality and Methodology." Statistics Canada Policy Manual. Section 2.3.  Last updated March 4, 2009.

Statistics Canada. 2003a. "Policy on Media Relations: Spokespersons and Response to the Media." Statistics Canada Policy Manual. Section 1.2. Last updated March 4, 2009.

Statistics Canada. 2003b. "Policy on the Review of Information Products (Institutional and Peer Review)." Statistics Canada Policy Manual. Section 2.5. Last updated March 4, 2009.

Statistics Canada. 2004. "Policy on Dissemination, Communications and Marketing Services." Statistics Canada Policy Manual. Section 3.1. Last updated March 4, 2009.

Statistics Canada. 2004a. "Policy on Estimates with Future Reference Dates." Statistics Canada Policy Manual. Section 2.2. Last updated March 4, 2009.

Statistics Canada. 2004b. "Policy on Highlights of Publications." Statistics Canada Policy Manual. Section 2.1. Last updated March 4, 2009.

Statistics Canada. 2004c. "Official Languages Policy." Statistics Canada Policy Manual. Section 5.3. Last updated March 5, 2009.

Statistics Canada. 2008. "Policy on The Daily and Official Release." Statistics Canada Policy Manual. Section 3.2. Last updated March 5, 2009.

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