INTERPRETABILITY OF THE NATIONAL ACCOUNTS
To make appropriate use of statistical information users need to understand the properties of the information. That requires the provision of descriptions of the underlying concepts, variables and classifications that have been used, the methods of collection, processing and estimation used in producing the information and an assessment of the accuracy of the information.
Statistical information that users cannot understand, or can easily misunderstand, has no value and may have negative value. Providing sufficient information to allow users to properly interpret statistical information is therefore essential. Information about information is technically known as metadata. Managing interpretability is primarily concerned with the provision of metadata.
The information needed to understand statistical data falls under three broad headings:
- the concepts, definitions and classifications that underlie the data
- the methodology used to collect and compile the data
- indicators of accuracy of the data.
The description of methodology also serves as a surrogate indicator of accuracy - it allows users to assess suitability for purpose.
There are close relationships between these three headings and other dimensions of quality. The underlying concepts and classifications used are also a prime determinant of coherence (see next section) and the degree to which they conform with national and international standards should be apparent from the metadata.
The CSM publication defines and discusses the major concepts, definitions and classifications that underlie national accounts data estimates. It also describes the methodology used to transform input data into statistical outputs and discusses the accuracy and reliability of national accounting estimates. The Australian national accounts concepts, classifications and terminology follow closely those of the SNA and therefore, users can be confident that they can draw valid comparisons with national accounts data produced by other countries.
Supplementing and updating this publication are an assortment of information papers, working papers and feature articles which draw attention to issues impacting on the data such as changes to the classifications, systems, concepts or standards, major data revisions and changes in data dissemination practices. Feature articles and technical notes are written on a regular basis to inform users of emerging issues and methodological changes and their impact on the national accounts. Most commonly, feature articles and technical notes are released in the national accounts publications, but Australian Economic Indicators (cat. no. 1350.0) has also been used. Information papers and research papers report on various aspects of research undertaken on topics relevant to the national accounts. A list of feature articles is maintained in the national accounts theme page on the ABS website.
This current Information Paper is an important addition to the information available to help users to interpret the national accounts.