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The ABS has responsibility for providing an effective national statistical service. The ABS’ enabling legislation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975, establishes the ABS as Australia’s central statistical authority, responsible for providing statistical services to all Australian governments, and the community. The functions described in the legislation provide for the ABS to collect, compile, analyse, and disseminate statistics, and to work with other organisations on statistical activities.
The role of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) is changing in many countries, including Australia. While statistical production responsibilities remain the highest priority for NSOs like the ABS, they are increasingly taking on a statistical leadership role as well. This is occurring for a number of reasons, including the need for greater coordination of statistical products, with another driving force being increased use by NSOs and other government agencies of their administrative and transactional databases for statistical purposes. In Australia, these government agencies are often best placed to produce statistics from these databases as long as they have appropriately skilled staff.
Where other agencies do not have staff with appropriate skills, NSOs are being asked to take a statistical leadership role and assist with improving coordination of the collection, as well as compilation and dissemination of the statistics. In Australia, for example, the ABS continues to broaden the concept of its statistical role to include not only statistics collected by the ABS, but also data produced by, or available from, other government and non-government agencies.
The emergence of communication networks, such as the internet, has allowed for the development of more sophisticated approaches to the electronic transfer of information, and the development of business processes that span multiple organisations. Governments, regulatory authorities, peak industry groups and businesses are investing in architecture frameworks that are designed to support business processes that cross organisational boundaries.
The adoption of technology is being driven by the need for ‘anywhere, anytime, in a way that suits me’ access to information, for example:
NSOs and other producers of quality statistics need to consider how to respond to these changes. NSOs have limited resources and are facing increasing challenges in prioritising investments and maximising outcomes, particularly given the explosion in technology use and opportunity, the cost and complexity of technology, and shortages of skills.
One of the initiatives the ABS is using to meet the increased demand for information is the development of the National Data Network (NDN). The NDN provides a library of statistical data holdings of relevance to policy analysis and research. Data custodians will be able to access a range of web-based services, protocols, procedures and tools to assist them to efficiently manage and share data, in a way that ensures security and privacy.
The NDN provides a practical vehicle for organisations with strong capabilities in statistics to provide leadership and assistance to others by supporting technology and protocols, and thereby supporting national (and potentially international) statistical leadership goals. Organisations can contribute in areas in which they have strong capabilities, and benefit from other participants in areas in which they have less capability or limited capacity. For example, some participants may be well-placed to support the development of the NDN by contributing sound data and metadata standards. Other participants may then be able to contribute data and metadata conforming to these standards. Some NDN participants may have specific expertise or a tool that they would like to see used widely, while many participants may simply utilise the resources of the NDN, without making specific contributions.
The NDN is one example of producers and users of statistics in Australia collaborating to meet the challenges arising from increasing demand for information and the rapid evolution of technology use. The collaborative approach harnesses and shares the work of the participants to build Australia’s national statistics system more effectively than individual efforts. The design and the use of open source software and approaches (much of which exists already) provides a means to join disparate components into a functional network. The federated nature of the technology development mirrors and draws on the federated nature of the evolving business process. As a result, data custodians can make data held within their organisations more accessible to researchers and analysts. More information about the NDN can be found in Chapter 10 Engagement with users and producers of statistics.
NATIONAL STATISTICAL SERVICE
As well as the NDN, the ABS has been advancing its statistical leadership role by building and strengthening collaborative arrangements with other agencies.
Some of the main achievements of the ABS’ National Statistical Service (NSS) are:
More information about the NSS can be found in Chapter 10 Engagement with users and producers of statistics.