Official Statistics and Open Data in the Caribbean: A Small Island Developing State Perspective

The peculiarities of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), small land masses and low population numbers, impact upon the approach to open data and official statistics. The statistical processes are built around the precepts of protection of the identity of individual data provider, the provider being a natural person or a corporate entity.
The review of four (4) countries in the Caribbean as SIDS, to determine their readiness for the publication of Official Statistics in an open data platform reveals a number of challenges that would have to be overcome before official statistics can be published as open data. The primary obstacles to be overcome include challenges associated with data collection and sharing within both the private and public sectors and cultural disposition within the organizations themselves. The statistics legislation restricts the publication of data that will allow for the identification of the data provider. This provision requires that micro data be anonymized before they are disseminated. In SIDS, this may not always be possible because of the population size. Notwithstanding there are some forms of official statistics that could be published in an open data format that would not be in breach of the law and practice. Other challenges to be overcome are the technological platforms, which are inadequate and the need for other resources which are not likely to be funded.
The official statistics produced by the National Statistics Office (NSO), classified for purposes this report as Census, National Statistics and Other, are compiled from surveys and administrative data from within the public sector. The data sets emanating from these records are owned by, and in the custody of the NSO. The NSO is the main producer of official statistics but there are other ministries, departments and agencies of government (MDA) that also produce official statistics. The statistics produced by the MDA are the by-products of the service delivery activities of the particular MDA. Official statistics are mainly used by the government for planning, by the citizens for monitoring the performance of the government, by the corporate sector for market information and by academia and researchers for education and investigation. The demand for data, particularly at lower levels of aggregation than are currently published, has increased.
The NSOs of the Caribbean are aware of open data and are in a moderate state of readiness for the implementation of open data. There are however some challenges to be overcome and these must be addressed in a systematic and sustainable manner. The steps include developing an implementation plan that will guide the process towards making more official statistics available in an open data platform. Some of the activities which may not require additional funding but would have a significant impact are:
  • The review and modernisation of the legal framework covering the collection, analysing and dissemination of official statistics;
  • Determining and publishing a dissemination policy;
  • Implementing change management procedures to break the culture of secrecy and privacy and move more towards confidentiality;
  • Determining those products that could be published at a lower level of disaggregation without breaching the legal requirements and publish them as open data.

See full report: Official Statistics Sector Study

  • Sonia Jackson, former Director-General at the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), Kingston
About the Caribbean Open Institute
The Caribbean Open Institute (COI) is a regional coalition of individuals and organizations that promotes open development approaches to inclusion, participation and innovation within the Caribbean, using open data as a catalyst. COI is part of the Open Data for Development (OD4D) program that brings together a leading network of partners who work to harness the potential of open data initiatives to enhance transparency and accountability as well as facilitate public service delivery and citizen participation.