1504.0 - Methodological News, Dec 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 09/12/2010   
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Quality Gates for the Mitigation of Statistical Risk

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) leads Australia's national statistical services, running hundreds of surveys and publishing thousands of pages of output every year. As with any large and complex organisation, problems with processes do arise and the ABS has suffered errors in our data in the past with varying degrees of impact on the public domain. Most errors are detected in-house before publication, however this has at times resulted in intense last-minute work to correct the problems leading to delays in the release of data. Other errors have only been discovered after release, resulting in re-issue of statistical output. As a result of these errors the ABS has endeavoured to instigate better quality management practices through the development and use of the risk mitigation strategy known as quality gates.

Quality gates are an organisational risk mitigation strategy the ABS has adapted to improve the early detection of errors or flaws in any part of statistical processes, be it collecting, processing, analysing or disseminating statistics. Quality gates are a powerful tool for improving an statistical organisation's ability to manage statistical risk by:

  • providing explicit evidence relating to the statistical process at strategic places in the cycle to determine fitness for purpose of the process (and data) at that point in time; and
  • improving knowledge management and information sharing of data relating to specific stages of a statistical process.

Each quality gate is a checkpoint at which an assessment of the quality of the process is made either qualitatively or quantitatively, to determine whether to proceed to the next stage of the process. This is achieved through the six components of a quality gate:
  • Placement - placement refers to the points in statistical processes at which a quality gate should be implemented based on the risk associated with that given point;
  • Quality Measures - quality measures are indicators which provide information about potential problems to allow for their early detection in a statistical process, e.g. response rates or data availability;
  • Roles - roles involves assigning tasks and accountability to areas or people connected to quality gates, including an operational person (gate keeper), stakeholders and a sign-off person;
  • Tolerance - tolerance or threshold refers to an acceptable level of quality for each quality measure, agreed in advance;
  • Actions - actions are a set of predetermined responses if a tolerance level or threshold is met or not met which allow faster responses to arising problems; and
  • Evaluation - evaluation is an examination of where improvements may be made to the quality gates in future cycles based on problems identified throughout the overall process.

Although the ABS is in the early stages of implementing quality gates, the impact has been very positive and we are therefore keen to promote their use to external organisations. To achieve this, the ABS will release an information paper that outlines the concept of quality gates and their six components in more detail, discusses the benefits of quality gates and provides examples to assist organisations to implement quality gates in their own statistical processes.

The information paper, 'Quality Management of Statistical Processes Using Quality Gates (cat. no. 1540)', will be released on Thursday, 23 December 2010. A home page icon will promote the paper on the ABS website from early December, and will later be linked to the paper upon its release.

Further information on the implementation of quality gates in a statistical process can be obtained from Andrew Doherty on (03) 9615 7038 or andrew.doherty@abs.gov.au, or from Narrisa Gilbert on (08) 9360 5283 or narissa.gilbert@abs.gov.au.