Summary of the Evaluation of Statistics Canada's COVID-19 Data Response: Gross Domestic Product Flash Estimates, Consumer Prices Data and Other New Economic Statistical Products

Throughout the pandemic, Statistics Canada has responded rapidly and with agility to the data needs of various users by developing many new products relevant to COVID-19 and its impacts on Canadians. While this response was agency-wide, the evaluation focused on three types of products: 1) gross domestic product (GDP) flash estimates, 2) consumer prices data and 3) other new economic statistical products.

This evaluation was conducted by Statistics Canada in accordance with the Treasury Board Policy on Results and Statistics Canada’s Risk-based Audit and Evaluation Plan (2020/2021 to 2024/2025). The objective of the evaluation was to provide a neutral, evidence-based assessment of Statistics Canada’s data response to COVID-19. The evaluation aimed at providing valuable information about the timeliness, the relevance and the impact of these products. It also looked at some of the related challenges and opportunities faced by the divisions responsible for these products to inform future direction.

In reviewing the organizational changes that were implemented to develop COVID-19 economic statistical products, the evaluation found that Statistics Canada took rapid action by assessing and delivering products that shed light on issues of importance during the pandemic. Delivery of COVID-19 economic statistical products was facilitated by an organizational shift towards business agility, which included innovative approaches to manage resources and analyze data. The dedication of staff was instrumental in the successful release of those products. However, the sheer volume and push for expediency impacted staff well-being.

To inform Statistics Canada on the effectiveness of its response related to economic statistical data needs during COVID-19, the evaluation assessed the extent to which the products released addressed the needs of key users in different areas. The majority of users considered the products released to be relevant, useful, timely and accessible. Users were also satisfied with the agency’s level of engagement and the methodological information released. As the pandemic has various socioeconomic impacts on Canadians, a number of gaps were identified in the areas of household economic data, employment data, and industry economic data.

Finally, the evaluation assessed the extent to which there is an ongoing need for COVID-19 economic statistical products and factors that must be taken into account going forward to deliver both COVID-19 products and regular activities. Users indicated an ongoing need for most of the products released, particularly for GDP flash estimates, consumer prices data and trade by exporter characteristics data. As the pandemic evolves, data on the recovery of the Canadian economy will be key for decision-making and policy development. The forward approach should focus on addressing post-pandemic data needs and areas of data gaps, while ensuring the sustainability of meeting both emerging and core economic data needs. Business prioritization, human resources, information technology and source data were identified as key enablers. Opportunities also remain to fully explore the lessons learned from the pandemic, which could be leveraged to help the organization further improve its COVID-19 data response and core activities. The lessons learned could also be shared across the agency to foster innovation and continuous improvement in support of the agency-wide response to COVID-19

The evaluation proposed two recommendations:

Recommendation 1:

The Assistant Chief Statistician (ACS), Economic Statistics (Field 5), should ensure that a comprehensive strategy is developed to identify, prioritize and respond to emerging data needs (i.e., post-pandemic data), including areas of current data gaps.

The strategy should consider the key enablers identified, and include approaches and plans that clearly set out how:

  • emerging data needs will be identified (e.g., stakeholder engagement approaches, international scan);
  • current and emerging data gaps will be addressed;
  • data needs will be prioritized based on intended outcomes and resource capacity; and
  • ongoing monitoring of data needs will be carried out.

Recommendation 2:

The ACS, Economic Statistics (Field 5), should ensure that a lessons learned exercise from the COVID-19 pandemic is conducted to identify approaches that could be applied to respond to COVID-19 data needs and improve core activities going forward. The lessons learned should be presented to a Tier 1 committee that will provide direction on their potential implementation across the agency, as applicable. They should also be shared across the agency to foster innovation and continuous improvement in support of the agency-wide response to COVID-19.

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