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Principle 1:
Relevance, impartiality and equal access

Official statistics provide an indispensable element in the information system of a democratic society, serving the government, the economy and the public with data about the economic, demographic, social and environmental situation. To this end, official statistics that meet the test of practical utility are to be compiled and made available on an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honour citizens' entitlement to public information.

So much is enshrined in just a few words!

The producers of official statistics must strive to serve society with the information people need and want. Only if statistics meet the test of practical utility can they be considered relevant. Utility can be frustrated by many barriers—figures that come too late to be useful, are published in lengthy books or hard-to-read graphs, are hard to locate on websites, or that lack the necessary explanations to help users know what they mean.

Ensuring relevance entails reaching out to current and potential users to find out about their needs: on what topics do they need statistics? in which formats? when do they need them? Needs change over time, so NSOs maintain constant contact with stakeholders. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, NSOs consulted widely to find out about and respond to rapidly changing demands for data. NSOs conduct user surveys and track usage of their products to keep tabs on their continued relevance.

Remaining impartial and safeguarding equal access are at the heart of official statistics. It is essential for statistical offices to be independent from governments, and free from political influence. Without these protections, citizens might be hesitant about participating in surveys or allowing their data to be used. If they perceive statistics to be linked to a government in whom their trust is limited, this might also undermine their trust in the figures. Official statistics respond to the needs of all types of users, not only those in authority; the data needs of the general public are just as legitimate as the data needs of governments, banks and businesses. This applies both to the choice of what statistics to produce, and the timing of release of statistics. No-one gets privileged access to figures, and no-one can tell the NSO to withhold them from public access.

Impartial official statistics don’t only help to build trust in the NSOs themselves—they contribute to a wider social goal of fostering transparency and accountability, building an open relationship between society and states. If we can trust that NSOs are telling us the whole, real story, for example, about progress towards the SDGs—even in cases where that real story demonstrates poor progress or unsuccessful policies—we are better equipped to hold our policymakers to account.

Statistics Canada

Watch video from the Chief Statistician of Canada, Mr. Anil Arora, along with various Canadian leaders, about the first principle