The IMF’s General Data Dissemination System (GDDS), launched in December 1997, has entered its operational phase. The entry, announced in a May 22 news brief, was signaled by a posting on the IMF’s Data Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB) of information on the statistical systems (or “metadata”)—including plans for improvements—of nine participating countries, spanning all the major geographical areas. The GDDS site also provides general information on the GDDS, including its principal features and conditions for participation by member countries.
The posting of the metadata on the IMF’ s website follows up on the pilot phase, which provided country authorities with information on the GDDS and assisted them with the preparatory work necessary for participation. The IMF will maintain the GDDS site as a service to the membership and will periodically add and update metadata for participants.
Metadata provide benefits
The metadata posted on the GDDS site are expected to be helpful for several groups, including official statistical agencies in other countries, data users, and providers of technical assistance. Statisticians in other countries may find information on dissemination practices and approaches taken by their peers abroad useful in helping them assess their own systems and initiate remedial action. Data users should be able to use the information in the metadata to assess whether the data are helpful. The information also draws attention to features in the compilation procedures that may affect antecedent analytical strengths or weaknesses. Technical assistance providers will be particularly interested in the plans for improvement, since these plans reflect the countries’ own set of priorities. The metadata also indicate in which areas the authorities believe they need technical assistance to carry out improvement projects.
The IMF believes that the dissemination of metadata, in addition to improving data quality and countries’ data dissemination practices, can contribute to the transparency and quality of policymaking in member countries. Information included in the metadata on access to and integrity of statistics (and the agencies that produce and disseminate them) is essential in building the confidence of the user community in official statistics. For these reasons, all GDDS participants are encouraged to reach out to the public at home by posting these metadata (perhaps in the national language) on national websites. In this connection, the IMF has worked closely with other international agencies on the development of the GDDS, and guidance provided by the GDDS to statistical agencies on the access and integrity aspects was inspired in part by the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.
Guide to good practices
The GDDS is an important strategic project for the IMF’s Statistics Department, which assists in improving data and statistical practices among IMF member countries. The primary focus of the GDDS is to foster improvements in data quality, but it also serves as a guide to good practices in the dissemination and production of comprehensive, timely, and reliable economic, financial, and sociodemographic data. Thus, it provides member countries with a framework for evaluating current data collection and publication practices and for setting priorities on improvements to their data in accordance with each country’s schedule.
The summary tables provided at the beginning of each country presentation on the GDDS site facilitate comparisons of country practices with recommended statistical practices under the GDDS. These summary tables, while bringing together all the authorities’ plans to strengthen their statistical systems, also indicate which agency is responsible for implementing the plans.
Member countries of the IMF elect to participate in the GDDS. Participation requires, among other things, the member’s commitment to using the GDDS as a framework for statistical development, as well as the preparation of metadata. To date, about 40 countries have expressed a strong interest in participating in the GDDS at an early stage.
The GDDS is distinct from another data dissemination initiative of the IMF, namely, the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS), which is a more demanding standard conceived for countries whose data generally already meet high standards. The GDDS is less prescriptive than the SDDS, which sets specific standards that must be observed by countries that subscribe to it. The GDDS emphasizes progress toward more timely, higher-quality, and higher-frequency data. It includes plans to improve GDDS metadata, but does not set future dates by which participants must complete improvements in existing practices. Participation in the GDDS is open to all IMF members, whereas the SDDS is intended for member countries having or seeking access to international capital markets.