Chapter 1.2: The United Nations Fundamental Principles Of Official Statistics


National statistical offices (NSOs) are looking into specific legal, institutional and international frameworks and instruments, driven by policy demand and social development, to help them benchmark their statistical systems against international good practices.

Good practices relate to, for instance, legal provisions to guarantee the professional independence of statistics producers while ensuring that scientific standards, statistical quality, and stringent and explicit confidentiality measures are in place.

Existing codes of practices could be adopted directly or serve as references for statistical agencies:

  • The United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics
  • The 2011 European Statistics Code of PracticeEndnote 1
  • Code of Good Practice in Statistics for Latin America and the CaribbeanEndnote 2
  • African Charter on Statistics.Endnote 3

The United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics were first adopted in 1994 at a special session of the United Nations Statistical Commission.Endnote 4 The principles, developed originally by the Conference of European Statisticians, help define, at an international level, what constitutes a good system of official statistics and what role that system should play in national governments. Ten years later, in January 2014, the principles were endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly,Endnote 5 which stated that, "in order to be effective, these fundamental values and principles should be guaranteed by legal and institutional frameworks and be respected at all political levels and by all stakeholders in national statistical systems."

As a member of the United Nations statistical community and as an active participant in the activities of the United Nations Statistical Commission, Statistics Canada fully supports the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.

As part of the celebration of the 2013 International Year of Statistics, Statistics Canada developed and promoted a video summarizing and highlighting the importance of these ten fundamental principles of official statistics and showing how they are entrenched in the organization's values.

This chapter outlines

  • the importance of each principle and why it is crucial for statistical agencies to consider each principle
  • how Statistics Canada implements each of these principles
  • the reference between each principle and the chapter providing details about that matter in this compendium

For a more complete overview of how these principles can be implemented, statistical organizations are invited to consult the implementation guidelines prepared by the Friends of the Chair group established by the United Nations Statistical Commission at its forty-second session, in 2011.Endnote 6

Principle 1: 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 honor citizens' entitlement to public information.

Countries require vast amounts of information to function effectively and to support their decision-making.

Like other national statistical organizations, Statistics Canada works collaboratively with partners and stakeholders to develop a national statistical system that meets the needs of Canadians.


As set out in Canada's Statistics Act, the scope of subjects to be covered by the agency is broad and encompassing. According to the act, Statistics Canada has a mandate to "report on the commercial, industrial, financial, social, economic, and general activities and condition of the people of Canada."

For example, Canada's economic accounts (gross domestic product, gross national income, etc.) provide up-to-date portraits of national, provincial, and territorial economies and their structures, based on an internationally recognized set of concepts. Labour market indicators provide key indicators, including how many  people are employed and how many are unemployed; the unemployment rate; the industries and occupations in which people work; the hours they work; the wage and non-wage benefits they receive; labour mobility; and unionization.

In addition to providing information about the state of the economy and  society, Statistics Canada keeps abreast of the evolving data needs of Canadians and ensures that its products and services meet these needs. Statistics Canada relies on a well-established set of advisory committees to provide input on current and future programs. At the strategic level, the National Statistics Council (NSC) advises the Chief Statistician on program priorities. Members of the NSC include leaders from business, universities, research institutions, and the media.

In addition to the NSC, there is a wide range of professional advisory committees, including subject-matter experts in the following areas: agricultural statistics, price measurement, and labour and income statistics. The agency also receives direct feedback from subject-matter experts, stakeholders, clients, and the Canadian general public through a number of channels, including the agency's website. All this input ensures that Statistics Canada receives the necessary information to keep its programs relevant.

Other examples include formal multilateral and bilateral mechanisms for communications with federal departments and a comprehensive set of federal-provincial-territorial committees, such as the overarching Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consultative Council on Statistical Policy, which provide advice to Statistics Canada on a variety of topics.

[Reference: Chapter 1.4: Understanding users' needs and maintaining relationships].

Objective and neutral data source

To be credible, NSOs must be—and be seen to be—strictly neutral with regard to political matters. Successive Canadian governments, without exception, have ensured this credibility by maintaining an arm's-length relationship between the Chief Statistician and the minister responsible for Statistics Canada. While governments have established the general budgetary parameters, and have occasionally provided targeted funding for new initiatives and guidance on program priorities, Statistics Canada's day-to-day operations have been kept free of intervention from the political side of government. The agency is expected to compile and publish its findings "without fear or favour," and has done so consistently since its inception.

[Reference: Chapter 1.1: Leadership and coordination of the national statistical system].

Impartiality and public accessibility to Statistics Canada's data

Statistics Canada makes its information holdings widely and publicly accessible to Canadians on its website. Statistics Canada's website is the agency's main method of communicating with Canadians: it records millions of visits per year. Data, products and publications are released each business day at 8:30 a.m., Eastern time, through The Daily, the agency's official release bulletin. The Daily is prominently featured on the website's home page, making the information released online easy to find.

[Reference: Chapter 4.1: Disseminating data through the website].

The Daily supports the agency's mandate to publish statistical information on Canada's economy and society. New datasets and information products are released through an announcement in The Daily. This practice ensures that all Canadians have equal access to Statistics Canada's information.

For major economic indicators and census releases, accredited media can have advance access to the information by attending lockups. Stringent security measures are applied to prevent any public release prior to 8:30 a.m. The release dates for these programs are posted on the agency's website one year in advance.

Impartiality and equal access to official releases is ensured by having fixed dissemination schedules, by being compliant with legal requirements for publishing the data, and by maintaining strict safeguards against access to pre-release material.

[Reference: Chapter 4.2: External communications and outreach].

Research data centres are the results of a collaborative partnership between Statistics Canada and Canadian universities at campuses across Canada. By providing access to over 350 confidential microdata files in secure academic research facilities, on 26 Canadian university campuses and in a research institute, Statistics Canada enhances the relevance of its data by better meeting the varying needs of researchers—by supporting research data centres and providing a platform for training quantitative researchers.

Similarly, through the development of the Canadian Centre for Data Development and Economic Research (CDER), Statistics Canada provides researchers with secure access to business and economic microdata for analytical research. CDER has served to strengthen Statistics Canada's organization of its business micro-economic data resources for the purpose of supporting information needs.

In February 2012, Statistics Canada eliminated all fees for its standard data products, which are now available for free through its website. As well, the agency removed all restrictions regarding, and all fees for, re-disseminating its data, moving from a policy of re-dissemination restriction to one of encouragement.

[Reference: Chapter 4.4: Access to microdata].

Principle 2: To retain trust in official statistics, the statistical agencies need to decide according to strictly professional considerations, including scientific principles and professional ethics, on the methods and procedures for the collection, processing, storage and presentation of statistical data.

Statistics Canada recognizes that trust in the accuracy and quality of its data is inherent to the agency's credibility and its role as Canada's national statistical agency. The agency systematically builds quality into all its programs and products. The quality of its official statistics is founded on the use of sound scientific methods, which are adjusted over time to reflect changing client needs, budgetary circumstances, the changing reality that the agency aims to measure, and the capacity of respondents to supply source data.

Building and maintaining public trust requires not only transparency of methodology, the application of professional and ethical guidelines, and objectivity in reporting, but also the assurance that all statistical decisions are based on scientific criteria. The main strategies used are strong recruitment; professional and career development programs in all core professional groups; maintaining programs that build a positive, exciting and healthy workplace; introducing programs to stimulate creativity and innovation, particularly at the "grass roots" level; and participating actively, nationally and internationally, in professional communities engaged in official statistics.

Statistics Canada continues to ensure that the workforce is professional, motivated and innovative; a strong focus on its workforce is a recognized hallmark of the agency.

Data quality

To ensure that the most appropriate methods and procedures are being used, the agency has developed and implemented a series of governing instruments to guide the many statistical processes within the organization. At the highest level, the agency has developed a Quality Assurance Framework, which provides analysts with the definition of data quality and with standards by which to measure it.

Within this framework, the quality of information is defined in terms of a multi-dimensional concept that embraces both the relevance of information to users' needs and the characteristics of this information, such as accuracy, timeliness, accessibility, interpretability and coherence. Transparency about these various dimensions helps users judge the extent to which a statistical product is fit for a specific purpose. A significant feature of quality management, which is highlighted in the framework, is balancing quality objectives against the constraints of financial and human resources, the goodwill of respondents in providing source data, and the competing demands for greater quantities of information.

Another way in which quality considerations are embedded into the practices of the organization is through the agency's Management Committee on Methods and Standards. This committee provides advice and guidance on developing and applying statistical standards, approving and adopting statistical concepts, developing and using sound statistical methods, and setting priorities for statistical research and innovation.

In addition, Statistics Canada has an external Advisory Committee on Statistical Methods, which advises the Chief Statistician on the use of efficient statistical methods in the agency's programs, and on the agency's program of research and development in statistical methods. The committee's members are experts from private industry and academia.

Internally, Statistics Canada has a Quality Secretariat dedicated to supporting the development and implementation of policies and procedures that promote sound quality management practices; to designing and managing studies related to quality management; and to providing advice and assistance to program areas on quality management.

[Reference: Chapter 1.5: Quality management].

Communicating about data quality

In addition to applying rigorous quality-assurance mechanisms in order to provide data users with reliable statistical information, the agency is also responsible for informing users about data quality. The Policy on Informing Users of Data Quality and Methodology requires that all statistical products include or refer to documentation on data quality and methodology. These standards and guidelines describe the kind of documentation that is expected for each data release.

This policy also requires that, for each statistical program, users be provided with the information necessary to understand both the strengths and limitations of the data being disseminated. Documentation on methodology must permit users to assess whether the data adequately approximate what they wish to measure, and whether the data were produced within the tolerances accepted for their intended purpose. Extensive documentation on quality, concepts and methodology, and other explanatory information, are also made available via Statistics Canada's Integrated Metadatabase on its website.

[Reference: Chapter 4.3: Management and access to metadata].

Principle 3: To facilitate a correct interpretation of the data, the statistical agencies are to present information according to scientific standards on the sources, methods and procedures of the statistics.

NSOs continuously aim to introduce and maintain methodological improvements into concepts, methods and procedures to improve official statistics.

Statistics Canada is responsible for informing users of the concepts and methodology used in collecting, processing and analyzing its data; of the accuracy of these data; and of any other features that affect their quality, or "fitness for use."

A key aid to Statistics Canada's clients is interpretation of data as they are released. Commentary in The Daily, and in associated materials, focuses on the primary messages that the new information contains. Directed particularly at the media, such commentary increases the likelihood that the first level of interpretation to the public will be clear and correct and increases the likelihood that mass media will integrate the material in its output, thus making it visible to vast audiences. Such mass dissemination is a key ingredient in ensuring the visibility and credibility of an official statistics agency. The Policy on Highlights of Publications requires that all statistical publications contain a section that highlights the principal findings in the publication.

Statistics Canada's standards and guidelines for the provision of metadata derive from the Policy on Informing Users of Data Quality and Methodology. The policy lays out requirements and guidelines on how to provideinformation on data quality and methodology with every statistical product. The Integrated Metadatabase is the repository used to store this information for each survey, in addition to other related metadata.

Statistics Canada participates in international committees to be fully aware of the current standards in the dissemination of metadata. The agency's experts also write scientific papers on methods, present them to the public, and make them available for use by the public.

[Reference: Chapter 1.3: Following international standards].

Principle 4: The statistical agencies are entitled to comment on erroneous interpretation and misuse of statistics.

Statistics can be used and interpreted in many different ways, and they may also be used for advertising and political purposes. It is then important for NSOs to maintain trust and credibility by drawing attention to obvious public incorrect use or interpretation.

Statistics Canada's Directive on Media Relations sets forth the guidelines for responding to erroneous statements in news reports. When news coverage (in print or online) contains erroneous statements about Statistics Canada and its programs or policies, or misinterpretations of data, communications staff send a formal response to the media to request that the information be updated online, or that a correction be issued in the newspaper.

Statistics Canada carries out activities to educate users, including the media, on how to use data. One example is "concept brief" presentations for the Census of Population and the Census of Agriculture, which are posted on the website in advance of the data being released. While data or findings are not discussed, members of the media receive a briefing on census concepts prior to release day so that they can readily understand the data being released.

A second example is that media are briefed about important changes or revisions to data prior to their release. For example, when Statistics Canada revised data from the System of National Accounts, members of the media who attended lockups for economic data received a briefing. Media outlets were also informed of the changes through a statistical announcement posted on the agency's website. The Media Relations service of Statistics Canada holds lockups for major economic indicators and census releases, during which subject-matter experts are present to answer questions related to the data released.

[Reference: Chapter 4.2: External communications and outreach].

Principle 5: Data for statistical purposes may be drawn from all types of sources, be they statistical surveys or administrative records. When choosing the source, statistical agencies must consider quality, timeliness, costs and the burden on respondents.

Producing official statistics is a costly and labour-intensive task for statistical agencies, and is demanding from a respondent perspective. Therefore, statisticians have to apply methods in the least intrusive way and choose the most cost-efficient data sources, without compromising data quality.

The Statistics Act confers substantial powers on Statistics Canada to obtain information for statistical purposes through surveys of Canadian businesses and households. By default, response to Statistics Canada's surveys is mandatory under the act; refusal to participate could be subject to legal penalty. The act includes provisions to make participation in some surveys voluntary, and Statistics Canada has generally done so for household surveys other than the Census of Population, and for the Labour Force Survey, which produces critical economic data. Surveys of businesses, including agricultural businesses, are conducted on a mandatory basis.

Statistics Canada can also, by law, access all administrative records, including tax data, customs declarations, and birth and death records. Such records are very important sources of statistical information, because they reduce response burden on business and individual respondents. When feasible, Statistics Canada uses administrative data, to reduce the burden on businesses and households. Additional efforts in using administrative data to reduce the burden on Canadians and businesses will continue to be a focus of the agency for years to come. While legal authority is a most useful tool, the agency favours relying on collaborative partnerships to secure access to administrative data.

Partnerships with other federal departments, other jurisdictions, and external organizations play a large role in reducing response burden. Statistics Canada continues to foster these arrangements as they serve the needs of stakeholders, the national statistical system and the Canadian research community. In tandem with these powers, the agency is charged with ensuring the confidentiality of the information in its hands, and with limiting the use of this information to statistical purposes.

[Reference: Chapter 4.5: Relations with survey respondents].

Principle 6: Individual data collected by statistical agencies for statistical compilation, whether they refer to natural or legal persons, are to be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes.

A fundamental requirement for official statistics is protecting confidentiality. This requirement is expected to be strictly implemented in each and every aspect of the statistical process—from survey planning to dissemination of statistical products.

Confidentiality protection

The strong power given to Statistics Canada to collect and access information is counterbalanced by a guarantee of confidentiality: all agency employees are personally liable for ensuring statistical confidentiality, and even courts cannot have access to individually identifiable statistical information without the informed consent of respondents.

The most important specific tool to deal with this matter is the Statistics Act, which spells out the agency's obligations and the personal liability of all employees. This message is reinforced through

  • training, starting with an introductory course;
  • physical perimeter security, which serves as a daily reminder;
  • an especially secure computing environment that makes it physically impossible to penetratethe network, thus preventing access by potential hackers;
  • an extremely strong cultural tradition that is passed on from generation to generation.

In addition, various corporate committees have been put in place to ensure proper access and protection of individual data: the Microdata Access Management Committee, the Information Management Committee, the Communications and Dissemination Committee, and the Security Coordination Committee. In addition, the following policies are in place to provide the necessary framework for protecting individual data: Policy on Privacy and Confidentiality, Policy on Microdata Release, Policy on Microdata Access, Policy on Privacy Protection and Policy on Network Use. Finally, a Disclosure Control Resource Centre conducts and coordinates research for the protection of respondent confidentiality in data disseminated by Statistics Canada.

Privacy protection

All statistical surveys represent a degree of privacy invasion, which is justified by the need for an alternative public good, namely information. The relevant issues are the methods used to ensure that questionnaire content is minimally intrusive, that respondents are informed of the purposes to be served by the data collection, and that the total reporting burden imposed on the population is regularly measured, controlled, and equitably distributed.

A special issue relates to the very sensitive topic of record linkage. Given the wide scope for record linkage within a centralized statistical system, particularly that of Statistics Canada, which has broad access to the data holdings of other departments, the agency developed a multi-level review procedure, as well as extensive ongoing consultation mechanisms with stakeholder groups and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. These mechanisms aim to ensure that all record linkage activities serve a clear public-interest purpose and that linked data will be retained only as long as operationally required.

[Reference: Chapter 4.6: Respecting privacy and protecting confidentiality].

Principle 7: The laws, regulations and measures under which the statistical systems operate are to be made public.

High-quality legislation is critical to the effective performance of a national statistical system. Statistics Canada is governed primarily by the Statistics Act, which sets out the agency's  mandate, defines its powers, and establishes the regulations under which it operates. In addition, under the Corporations Returns Act, Statistics Canada collects financial and ownership information on corporations conducting business in Canada.

One of the Chief Statistician's key responsibilities is to ensure that Statistics Canada's operations are transparent and independent of government influenceThe agency is proactive and fully transparent in disclosing its methods and standards. It is also subject to legislation concerning access to Iinformation  that is used by various third parties, among other things, to investigate the rationale behind the decisions that are taken.

[Reference: Chapter 1.1: Leadership and coordination of the national statistical system].

Under the guidelines of thePolicy on Informing Users of Data Quality and Methodology, Statistics Canada applies rigorous quality-assurance mechanisms to provide data users with reliable statistical information. The agency is also responsible for informing users about data quality, which involves applying consistent measures to identify, record, approve, and correct post-release errors and unplanned revisions, and to report thereon.

Statistics Canada keeps Canadians informed of the agency's various priorities and activities through regular reports, such as the Report on Plans and Priorities, the Departmental Performance Report, and the Corporate Business Plan. In addition, the agency regularly communicates with the public using communication vehicles such as blogs, other social media, videos, and statistical announcements.

Principle 8: Coordination among statistical agencies within countries is essential to achievinge consistency and efficiency in the statistical system.

According to the United Nations Statistics Division, General Review 2013, "No matter what the organizational arrangements are for producing official statistics, coordination of NSO should be undertaken to avoid duplication of work, and to facilitate the integration of data from different sources through the use of statistical standards."

The Statistics Act authorizes Statistics Canada to, and requires that the agency, coordinate and lead the national statistical system. As part of this effort, it permits the agency to enter into two kinds of joint collection and data-sharing agreements: 1) with any government department, provided that respondents are notified and that they register no objection; and 2) with a provincial statistical agency that has legislative confidentiality protection comparable with that of Statistics Canada.

Furthermore, the Statistics Act requires that Statistics Canada coordinate the national statistical system, specifically to avoid duplication in the information collected by government. To this end, the Chief Statistician may enter into joint collection or data-sharing agreements with provincial and territorial statistical agencies, as well as with federal, provincial and territorial government departments. These agreements are subject to confidentiality guarantees for identifiable statistical information.

In each of the areas of major provincial jurisdiction, the Chief Statistician has a forum for discussing statistical priorities with the appropriate provincial deputy ministers. These fora, however, are also used for another purpose. Large portions of the statistical system depend on provincial administrative records from the of health, education and justice sectors.. Therefore, to compile consistent national statistics in these areas, the provincial administrative systems need to be harmonized. Meetings of the responsible provincial deputy ministers provide occasions to discuss and resolve any challenges and issues that may exist. In each of these domains, an elaborate working-level mechanism exists to develop practical program options and to put the decisions reached by deputy ministers into effect.

Understanding provincial priorities in all other areas takes a different form. Every provincial government appoints a senior official to interact with Statistics Canada on its behalf. This official, the provincial liaison provides an integrated picture of provincial priorities. The Chief Statistician and the focal points constitute a Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consultative Council on Statistical Policy, which oversees about a dozen federal-provincial committees dealing with particular subject-matter areas or cross-cutting issues.

Thus, Statistics Canada endeavours to work in very close concert with other official data producers, providing them with statistical services (e.g., frames and data; methodology services) and receiving data from them, as well as working together to support Canada's involvement in various international organizations. The agency works carefully with other data producers to avoid overlapping programs, and, often, this coordination happens at a program level rather than at the agency level.

[Reference: Chapter 1.4: Understanding users' needs and maintaining relationships].

Principle 9: The use by statistical agencies in each country, of international concepts, classifications and methods promotes the consistency and efficiency of statistical systems at all official levels.

Comparability is an important dimension of quality. Without common standards, frameworks, classifications and metadata, comparability between countries would not be possible.

International standards are applied by Statistics Canada as much as possible, and are adapted to national circumstances in fields such as national accounting, census and demographic statistics, social statistics, and environment statistics. In providing technical assistance to other countries, the agency always promotes the use of internationally recognized standards of classification and methods.

In addition, Statistics Canada actively participates in international discussions, deliberations and elaboration of standards and guidelines. In fact, Statistics Canada is recognized as an active participant internationally, and provides a great deal of technical leadership in developing international classifications and concepts.

[Reference: Chapter 1.3: Following international standards].

Principle 10: Bilateral and multilateral co-operation in statistics contributes to the improvement of systems of official statistics in all countries.

NSOs should actively participate in developing bilateral and multilateral co-operation to improve data quality by sharing lessons learned and best practices.

Statistics Canada has played an active role with other national statistical agencies and international statistical organizations. The agency shares statistical technical expertise and best practices, and works co-operatively to develop international standards and statistical classifications, as well as frameworks for the international and national development of official statistics. Statistics Canada plays a key role in providing technical support internationally. Moreover, the agency is actively involved with international organizations, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Statistical Commission, and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Finally, Statistics Canada is a member of several international working groups responsible for developing international standards. Canada's Chief Statistician is also actively involved in the United Nations Statistical Commission.

In 2011, with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), Statistics Canada launched the International Statistical Fellowship Program. The program provides leaders of statistical agencies in developing countries with an executive training session that addresses leadership and management issues. The session is followed by a two-year development and implementation of a governance project under Statistics Canada's monitoring. The goal of the program is to share knowledge and best practices in order to help these countries manage their operations and, more importantly, to help them provide their countries with reliable, relevant and timely data.

In 2015, Statistics Canada renewed its partnership with DFATD for a seven-year initiative called the Project for the Regional Advancement of Statistics in the Caribbean (PRASC). The intent of the PRASC is to enhance statistical capabilities in the fourteen (14) eligible countries of the Caribbean in four major components: national accounts, infrastructure for economic surveys, infrastructure for social surveys, and information-sharing.

In addition, from the bilateral perspective, Statistics Canada is working with a number of NSOs to support them in developing modern and efficient statistical systems.

Statistics Canada also actively participates in several multilateral co-operation projects. For example, since 2010, a number of countries, including Canada, have been exploring cost efficiencies through the joint development of key tools, as part of the high-level Group for the Modernisation of Official Statistics. The objective is to develop a common framework for metadata, including for the dissemination of metadata. Statistics Canada is involved mainly in developing a generic information management system and in using and developing innovative dissemination approaches.

[Reference: Chapter 3.1: Corporate Business Architecture].

Challenges and looking ahead

While the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics provide a useful reference point, they are general in nature and, until recently, have not been accompanied by more specific guidance.

In addition to the UN principles, NSOs will be able to also refer to the new Good Statistical Practices of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which were endorsed in 2015 (these practices will be published later in 2016). However, each NSO evolves in a specific national context where these guiding principles and practies need to be adapted and tailored to national specifications.


Endnote 1

Eurostat. 2011.

Return to endnote 1 referrer

Endnote 2

United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. 2011.

Return to endnote 2 referrer

Endnote 3

African Union Commission. 2009.

Return to endnote 3 referrer

Endnote 4

United Nations Statistics Division. 1994.

Return to endnote 4 referrer

Endnote 5

United Nations. 2014.

Return to endnote 5 referrer

Endnote 6

United Nations Statistics Division. 2015.

Return to endnote 6 referrer


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