Counting on statistics

A new body to coordinate statistics produced in and affecting the Cayman Islands launched last week. 

The National Statistical Coordination Committee is a technical committee which includes the government’s Economics and Statistics Office and all public sector agencies with statistical units or functions wishing to join.  

Maria Zingapan, director of the Economics and Statistics Office, said the National Statistical Coordination Committee aimed to have an information system that served the government and the public with data about the situation in the Cayman Islands in four areas – economic, demographic, social and environmental. 

While the committee will initially comprise public sector agencies, it may later involve key users of statistics from the private sector, such as business associations and schools, Ms Zingapan said. 

She said the committee’s goal is to coordinate the development of the country’s statistical system through networking. 

Fostering closer links among data producers will involve establishing “agreements on the sharing of data and statistical resources within the respective bounds of the agencies’ operational laws and policies”, Ms Zingapan said.  

She said the agencies had already been working with the ESO on data collection and collation on an informal basis, especially with the annual compendium of statistics that the ESO releases. But she added that the new committee would formalise that arrangement and ensure that methods and standards complied with international standards. 

Other functions of the committee involve the promotion of international statistical standards and the provision of technical assistance and/or training to enable statistical planning among member agencies. 

The committee also plans in the future to conduct joint outreach activities to help broaden the understanding and use of data in the community and encourage improved response rates for surveys.  

“Our prayer at ESO is that the NSCC will be embraced by all data producing agencies. Some of you have already partnered with us in the past, serving as members of the Census Advisory Committee. And most of you are in current partnership with us, as data sources of a number of our reports. Some of you are also clients, with ESO providing technical advice on your data collection activities. Today, we invite you to become stronger partners as we network for better statistics in the Cayman Islands for the good of all to God’s glory,” she told the audience at the 
committee launch on Thursday. 

Membership in the committee is voluntary, dependent on the willingness of the agencies and subject to their primary mandates. The committee will hold its first meeting on 2 May. 

Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie, who spoke on how her department collects and uses data to form action plans to help protect the environment, said she had been concerned about “relative lack of accurate and reliable national statistics and … the seeming reluctance of the country at large to routinely apply data and statistics to national decision making”. 

“We have to get over that very large hump and drag ourselves into the 21st century,” she added. 

She explained that statistics can be a powerful decision making tool as they can be used to predict trends and patterns, based on the data collected. “They help us to make educated decisions,” she said, adding that statistics can also alert people to changes. 

The Caribbean Technical Assistance Centre recommended setting up the committee in a May 2005 report, which noted: “there are currently no means of setting priorities in the statistics area.  

The mission, therefore, recommended the creation of a national statistical coordinating committee. Such a committee would serve the purpose of advising the chief statistician on planning and prioritisation in the statistical programme.” 

Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who gave the keynote address, spoke of the detrimental impact of “silo thinking” within government, referring to lack of communication and 
cooperation between disparate departments and agencies. 

“This phenomenon has many symptoms, foremost of which is the lack of communication and understanding of a common vision and shared goals and objectives. Ultimately, this leads to departments, ministries and statutory authorities perceiving themselves as competitors rather than complementary providers of public goods and services.  

“Competition for scarce resources, particularly the budget, arises.  

With imperfect coordination and oversight of related functions, inefficiencies crop up and when these can no longer be controlled, the “silo effect” can be harmful, if not fatal,” she said. 

She referenced the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003 as a tragic example of silo thinking, quoting an article by management consultant Len Rosen in which he stated that the senior flight safety decision-making processes at NASA led to the accident because “those outside of the inner circle raised alarms about a potential danger from falling foam debris but the inner circle in its silo ignored the concerns”. 

“I pray that we in the Cayman Islands government will not experience such dramatic loss 
before we wake up to the necessity of combatting the spread of ‘silo thinking’.  

We need to counter this with ‘system thinking’,” Ms O’Connor-
Connolly said. 

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