Federal statistical agencies must have credibility with those who use their data and information.
THE value of a statistical agency rests fundamentally on the accuracy and credibility of its data products. Because few data users have the resources to verify the accuracy of statistical information, they rely on an agency’s reputation to disseminate high quality, objective, and useful statistics in an impartial manner. Only if its products are viewed as credible can an agency be regarded as working in the national interest, not beholden to a particular set of users (Ryten, 1990; see Practice 2).
Credibility therefore stems from the respect and trust of users and stakeholders in the statistical agency. Agencies build this respect and trust, not only by producing accurate and objective data and meeting all of their deadlines for the release of their statistics, but also by adhering to the other principles for federal statistical agencies and by following some key practices. When different agencies produce similar or related estimates, it is essential that statistical agencies coordinate and collaborate with each other (see Practice 7) to ensure that users understand the differences and can determine which data are most useful for their needs.
Agencies build and maintain respect and trust through clear public commitments to professional practice and transparency in all that they do. For example, statistical agencies should actively engage with users in determining priorities for data collection and analysis, make their data available widely on an equal basis to all users, formally and informally (see Practice 9), and fully inform users of the strengths and weaknesses of the data (see Practice 10). Such activities demonstrate an agency’s respect toward, and openness with, its users and stakeholders.
A statistical agency’s website is a key vehicle for conveying not only its statistical data, but also key information about its data. Providing clear and easy access for users to locate, work with, and understand the strengths and limitations of the agency’s data is a vital part of an agency’s mission (see Practice 1) and requires ongoing efforts to continue to meet users and stakeholders’ evolving needs. An agency’s website can enhance its credibility by providing information about its policies for data access (e.g., explaining which tables and microdata files are publicly available and which data require approval to access in secure sites to protect confidentiality) (see Practice 8); scientific integrity policies; standards for data quality and for documenting sources of error in data collections and estimation models (see Practice 3); procedures and schedules for the release of new and continuing data series; procedures for timely notice of errors and corrections to previously released data; procedures and schedules for archiving historical data; and documentation of ongoing research efforts to provide accurate statistics that meet users’needs (see Practice 5).
Statistical agencies also engage in internal activities that are key to their ability to function effectively, thereby garnering the respect and trust of their users and stakeholders. To keep up with an ever-changing society and technology, statistical agencies need to recruit, develop, and retain high-quality professional staff who are dedicated to providing high-quality products and upholding high ethical standards (see Practice 4). Statistical agencies also need to regularly review and evaluate their programs and share the results of these evaluations with their users and stakeholders (see Practice 6).
Practices That Are Particularly Relevant for Principle 2
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