Open focus on Cuban statistics

In Cuba, the National Statistical Information System (SIEN) is a legitimating mechanism of the Cuban public administration that points to the control and centralisation of information, but the technical limitations restrict and make complex its use.

The National System of Statistics and Information is the fundamental resource for the decision making of the Cuban State and government. 

Relations between the public institutions and citizens have drastically and irreversibly changed due to the new technologies. It is increasingly easy for the public administrations to inform, for the citizens to have information and it is rather more difficult to hide social information relevant to decisions at all levels of a public sphere, in which citizens are empowered and the administrators are increasingly held more responsible due to the demand for transparency. Technology has become in itself a mediator of the efficiency and trustworthiness of the processes of which we are the users or regulation subjects.

One of the tendencies in the conception of the government’s information systems points to the creation of information systems based on open data. Any citizen or enterprise can analyse, reuse and redistribute these data, generate new services and allow the public administration to improve in transparency and to promote the generation of wealth through the efficient administration of the resources. These enterprises or persons are called “infomediators” or “reutilizers.” It is necessary for the given data to comply with the principles defined for the Open Government Data initiative, a movement designed to unrestrictedly place government data at the disposal of citizens.

  1. COMPLETE DATA: All public data is made available. Public data is data that is not subject to valid privacy, security or privilege limitations.
  2. PRIMARY DATA: Data is as collected at the source, with the highest possible level of granularity, not in aggregate or modified forms.
  3. TIMELY: Data is made available as quickly as necessary to preserve the value of the data.
  4. ACCESSIBLE: Data is available to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes.
  5. MACHINE PROCESSABLE: Data is reasonably structured to allow automated processing.
  6. NON-DISCRIMINATORY: Data is available to anyone, with no requirement of registration.
  7. NON-PROPRIETARY: Data is available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control.
  8. LICENCE-FREE: Data is not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret regulation. Reasonable privacy, security and privilege restrictions may be allowed.

There are several factors from which to tackle the advantages of the open data focus, especially those associated to citizens and public administration. The implementation of this type of information systems supposes a great step for the information transparency and the attainment of that goal of the open government. Citizens can have a clearer vision of their administration’s actions and services, as well as how their contribution is being invested and how public resources are being managed. All the statistical information generated in public agencies and institutions must be trustworthy and have quality.

For citizens, the principal advantage of the free spread of public data is the rapprochement to the principles of open government, that is, the one in permanent conversation with citizens and that facilitates citizens’ participation and collaboration in the exercise of their functions. The use of public data can generate diverse applications and new services of social value that improve the life of citizens. The creation of new services by private enterprises, with the use of the open data catalogues, entails the generation of new job posts.

The fact that different administrations can exchange data promotes inter-feasibility and collaboration; the administration’s efficiency increases and the work load of public employees decreases.

It also provides a greater transparency because public data are presented in a standardised way so that citizens as well as enterprises or other State institutions and civil society can use them. In terms of the administrations, they can notably reduce the costs of applications that can now be designed by the infomediator companies. Citizen’s collaboration also benefits and they can participate actively in the improvement of public service with contents generated by them or ideas and initiatives created and promoted by them, or new applications developed based on released public data.

Figure 1: Tripartite model of open government. Taken from the website of the Démocratie Ouverte NGO

OpenGov_Diagram_EN

Public statistics is the group of data and statistics defined, generated, drawn up and published by the different departments and agencies that make up the Public Administration. These are obtained through censuses, surveys or through the use of administrative registries, which is no more than the data some institution or public agency collects as part of their specific function.

The terms public statistics and official statistics are usually used without distinction. The first term is more appropriate, since it clearly denotes the last property of the information produced by public institutions. In Cuba the term used is official statistics, defined in Decree Law 281 of 2011 to refer to relevant data for the decision making of the State and the government.

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) explains that the availability of objective and reliable statistics inspires trust among the population and national and international organisations in the integrity of the Government and the process of making public decisions in the economic, social and environmental spheres of a country. For them to have practical use, statistics must be pertinent and have an appropriate quality, and be presented in a way that facilitates their correct use. For this it is essential to understand the needs of users.

One of the principal problems faced by citizens who use public statistics is not having homogeneous and comparable information, since the source institutions do not make a specific treatment of the statistical data in their collection or in their subsequent refinement and presentation to users or final clients in the form of information services.

The systems must be structured based on models of metadata that guarantee the inter-feasibility. This also entails a reduction of costs due to the fact that to the extent that the two groups of data refer to the same type of information, if the format chosen by the different administrations is the same, it allows for obtaining more easily new uses for the data. The possibility that citizens collaborate allows for keeping political authorities up to date on concerns, interests and needs. Moreover, the administrations can share information more easily and with greater transparency. Many countries have become part of this type of initiatives.

The quality of the statistical information is related to meeting the expectations of the persons interested in statistical services and in their production and work processes. The quality in statistical information must be defined as the point in which it meets the needs and demands of current and potential users. The value of the information is multifactorial because the content, timeliness, comparability, exactitude and availability intervene. If the first three elements are grouped together, referring to the relevance, it is possible to identify three principal aspects of the quality of the statistical information: relevance, exactitude and availability.

Another dimension of interest refers to decision making. From that perspective, the quality of statistical information lies in its potential to be used effectively, economically and rapidly to make and assess decisions. A decade ago, public statistics were designed to meet the needs of planners and decision makers, but during the last 10 years it has been directed at the needs of society in general, as well as of more specialised users.

Some authors deal with the issues of access and use of statistical information as a citizen right and as a guarantee of democracy. Thus, different layers or levels of information are produced in relation to users. Such dimensions as technology, level of processing, the sources of information and public policies are added.

Figure 2: The chain of open data value shows that public information is socially influenced by diverse factors and is produced at different levels.

Publico: Public

Privado: Private

Fuentes: Sources

Esquemas: Legal/Tech. Plans

Infomediarios: Infomediators

Tratamiento: Data Treatment

Apps: apps

Servicios: Online Services

Analisis: Analysis

Productos: Products and services

Usuario: Professional user

Usuario ciudadano: Citizen user

Usuarios: Users

 

The economic and social development of countries depends to a great extent on the statistical information used by those responsible for defining public policies. The decisions will be increasingly more efficient to the extent in which the quality of the support information is improved. There are several institutions in countries that develop statistical production processes, such as national institutes of statistics, secretariats, sectorial information systems, specialised institutions, etc.

The groups of official statistical activities carried out in a country are called public statistical systems. They include the national statistical organisations, whose aim is to provide the statistics needed in the country; their raison d’être is to help the activity of the State and the public in general, to discover the reality to better orient these activities. Therefore, these statistics have to be as varied as these activities.

Public statistics supply the information that supports the definition, the follow up and the assessment of the public policies, according to the aims of each State or society. Nowadays, advances are increasingly being made in the levels of coordination and integration of these statistics through the National Statistics Systems, and there are already experiences of integration into broader information systems.

This work is based on the supposition that statistical information is a social need, and deals with the case of Cuba’s National Statistical System as a source of information of open access for decision making in the public administration. The context of the analysis are the budgets of the reform of the economic model begun in 2008, which results in the application of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines and the compliance of Decree Law 281/11 on the Government’s Information System.

Statistical information as a social need of the public administration

The need for information is generated by the absence of suitable information that allows for following alternatives that potentially lead to benefits or services to improve the standard of living of persons.

Persons need social information to support the roles they carry out as members of society. An informed citizen is a better citizen; under that premise it can be said that statistics make it possible for persons to make better decisions regarding their daily life. In the same way, it is the duty of the administrations to transparently render accounts and one of the essential sources for this are clearly defined statistics.

If the needs of citizens must be the principal aspect in determining the activities and assessment of the work of an institution that produces statistics, it can be affirmed that the concept of quality in these institutions covers those aspects of the statistical results that reflect their adaptation to the use of clients.

Open access to official statistics provides citizens with something more than only a photo of society. It offers them a window regarding the government’s work, while it shows its level of activity in the areas of public attention, makes it possible to calculate the impact of the administration’s policies and actions. Reliable social and economic statistics are fundamental for an open government; moreover, it is the government’s responsibility to provide them and to maintain society’s confidence in them.

Credibility in public statistics

Having access to reliable statistics is essential in any democratic society. Credibility derives from the respect and trust users have in the producing organisation and the data it emanates. The institutions that produce statistics win the respect and confidence of society when they display an opening regarding the origin of their information and the limitations of the data they provide, when they display the will to understand and know the needs of users and when they have a position of respect and confidence toward the users of their information.

The United Nations warns that, to have credibility and carry out its function of providing a continuous flow of useful information of excellent quality for the public in general and those responsible for formulating policies, it is necessary that the agencies that produce statistics have widely recognised independence. Without the credibility derived from a high degree of independence, users would lose confidence in the exactitude and objectivity of the information of agencies and those who provide them with the data will be less willing to cooperate with them.

It is the citizens who have the right to demand a credible relation with the statistics produced and they are the ones who define the compliance of the conditions required for this. A study carried out by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) identified some attributes that range from the individual perception of the user to the community perspective, “the more credible and significant the statistics are, this community will be more willing to increase investments in public and private resources for their production.”

Statistical information is a public asset; its provision is an unavoidable obligation of the public agencies and entities. The quality of public and private decisions depends on the availability of reliable demographic, economic and social information.

To have credibility, the agencies producing statistics must be free, and be perceived as free, of any political interference or interest. It is also important that they have practices that ensure the extensive equal distribution of data for any type of user, a total opening regarding the origin of the information and being committed to its quality and professionalism.

The previous approximations directly refer to fundamental properties of information as a mechanism of legitimisation in the public sphere: as a right and as an incentive for administrative transparency. In the same way, the available statistical information, the rules for access and use, their periodicity…explains the way of thinking, assessing, understanding and action of the State in relation to information. It encourages good practices in public work, with the support of other information systems such as libraries, archives and the media, which form part of the State’s capital of information.

Regarding those characteristics, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) argues in its Internet Manifesto that free access to the World Wide Web offered by libraries and information services help communities and individuals to achieve freedom, prosperity and development.

That organisation encourages all governments to support the free flow of information accessible on the Internet and the freedom of expression to guarantee openness and transparency, to oppose attempts at censorship or inhibiting access, and to guarantee the demonstration that the vigilance and collection of data are legal, necessary and proportional.

The relevant information for the State and government of Cuba

 

The economic reform undertaken by the Cuban State late last decade has among its adjustments the vindication of the role of information for making of decision by the public administration and the need to keep citizens informed about aspects of public interest. The evident expressions of this are found in the guiding documents of this process, in which it is possible to notice essential features of the relevant information for the Cuban State and government.

While the Guidelines document refers specifically to the term in scarce occasions in an explicit way, the focus of the implementation is directed at the legality and control of the organisational and public administration processes, based on efficient information systems.

Some guidelines explain that affirmation. The 11th registers the term information when referring to the need to reduce the amount of economic and financial controls (not excluding the administrative ones). Those actions are directed at making “the information systems more rational.” The section dedicated to the agribusiness policy instructs the improvement of “the organisational structures to apply reliable control and information instruments” (Guideline 179). In terms of the tourist policy, the use of information and communication technologies is required for marketing the Cuba destination (Guideline 258).

In 2011, Decree Law 281, on the Government’s Information System, was published in the Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba. It states that information is a: “group of processed data that are a message about a certain entity or phenomenon. It gives meaning or sense to things and its rational use is the foundation of knowledge, facilitating the solution of problems and decision making.”

The same document, in its article 11, establishes: “The government’s relevant information is the group of data, including the official statistics, which are indispensable for all levels of leadership. In principle, they are regularly and periodically generated, defining beforehand the procedures, attributions and obligations related to obtaining, registering and presenting them as well as their periodicity.”

The government information system uses the National Office of Statistics and Information as a data source. This institution methodologically directs the production of relevant information for the government, for which the National Statistical Information System (SIEN) has been implemented.

The National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) has the mission of guaranteeing the production of quality statistics through the National Statistical System (SEN). The function of this system and its governing body, the ONEI, is to control the reception of the statistical figures of the nation, economically as well as socially, and their publication according to the country’s needs for information, which is why the statistical information is organised, controlled, collected through the SEN, and once verified and analysed it is published on the website.

That mission is consistent with what is established by Decree Law 281/11 on the government’s information system, in which the information relevant for the Cuban government is defined: “it is a group of data, including the official statistics, which are indispensable for all levels of leadership.”

“In principle, it is regularly and periodically generated, defining beforehand the procedures, attributions and obligations related to obtaining, registering and presenting it as well as its periodicity.”

The Guidelines for the implementation of the economic and social policy, as well as the existing working objectives of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), take into account that definition and refer without distinction to the notions of data and information. The guidelines focus on the control and legality of the information and the Party objectives allude to the information that is made known to citizens. These positions reveal the government’s interest in favouring the use of data as a primary source for making decisions at all levels of Cuban social life.

The following epigraphs examine the website of the Cuban National Statistical System from the perspective of open data. The aforementioned properties of the statistical information are taken into account, with the vision of the renovation of the economic reform undertaken in 2008.

National Statistical Information System

The SIEN includes the drawing up of statistics and analyses to meet the information needs of the State and government, in order to know the performance of the economic, demographic and social processes and especially for controlling the national economic plan and budget, the international statistical commitments to the population and other institutions.

Figure 4: Organisation of the Cuban statistical information system. Taken from the ONEI website.

Sistema Estadistico: National Statistics System

En el SEN: All the organs, agencies and entities that prepare statistics in the country participate in a coordinated manner in the SEN. It comprises 3 subsystems:

Sistema: National Statistical Information System

La ONE aprueba y: The ONE approves and produces these statistics

La ONE aprueba metodologicamente: The ONE approves methodologically

Sistema de Informacion Estadistica Territorial: Provincial Statistical Information System

Sistema de Informacion Estadistica Complementario: Complementary Statistical Information System

Fuentes: Information sources

Hogar: Home

Entidades: Entities

Ciudadano: Citizen

 

According to the standards, the institution´s functions include the integration of the country’s state statistical work into an efficient system and the objective highlights “providing the required information for the control of the economic plan, the analysis of the economy’s performance and other needs of the country.”

The SIEN is centralised and issues the country’s official statistics of all the sectors. Thus its duty is to organise and approve the centralised statistics to meet the leadership’s information requirements and the international statistical commitments, as well as the provincial statistics to meet the requirements of the government leadership bodies in the provinces and approve the methodological and classification regulations used.

National Office of Statistics and Information website

 

The ONEI website contains public information and is used to make known the country’s non-classified relevant statistical information for its subsequent consultation and analysis. It is a vital component for this organisation and the nation, since it contains information that can be accessed and which in many cases is of compulsory consultation, given the need for a partial or detailed knowledge of national statistics.

Moreover, it is usual to find common citizens interested in acquiring information about their province’s statistics or about a certain region of the country for personal satisfaction or interest, which is why they interact with the website for this purpose verifying the fact that the statistical information not only must be of interest for businesspeople, experts, researchers, executives, but rather that it is an information that the people must and has the right to know.

The characteristics of the SIEN with the principles of open data are analysed in the following paragraphs.

ONEI’s statistical service has a public character, which is why it includes information related to the three powers in the working levels. Its access is free through the website. The data are detailed, but have a certain level of processing for their publication on the website.

The updating rate is variable. It is observed that in the publication dates for the most active months for general statistics of the previous year are April and May. For sectorial statistics it is the months of September and October. This doesn’t necessarily have a positive impact because while it maintains the precision, the sense of timeliness is lost. In addition, discrepancies are generated between the information published by the institution and those published in the media, because the updating of the service on the website is rather more spaced than the frequency in which it is used in journalistic information. This is a major problem. The absence of updated data of the public sources can cause numerical errors and wrong interpretations that, in the case of Cuba, can take months to clear up with the publication of the ONEI reports.

Accessibility is the degree in which all persons can use an object, visit a site or access a service, independently of their technical, cognitive or physical capacities. It is indispensable, since it is a question of a necessary condition for the participation of all persons, independently of the possible functional limitations they can have. Strictly speaking, the service is accessible to all those who want to use it, independently of the purpose of its use. However, the form of presenting the information restricts its effective public, since it does not adapt to the standards of accessibility for the web: high contrast or large size types, screen magnifiers, screen readers and revisers, voice recognition programmes, adapted keyboards and other cursor devices and of information entry.

This is related to the out-dated design of the website, which remains conceived as a space of static information, designed according to the standards of the 1990s.

In general, the data do not allow for automation, since they are mainly published in pdf format. Some statistics published in Excel allow for a certain level of processing by computers, but their updating is even less frequent. This is an aspect unfavourable for the reutilisation of the data and a problem for the speedy recovery of relevant references.

To access the statistical services available on the web registration is not necessary.

While the country has defined as a policy the use of free software in the process of computerising Cuban society, the data formats used by the ONEI for the publication of its service use their own software.

The published data are of free access for users. This means that they are not subject to patents, copyrights, privacy rights, security or privileges established by other regulations.

The sources of statistics are the surveys and censuses. Meanwhile, all the agencies of the system of the public administration render accounts, in the form of statistics, on the exercise of their functions.

The credibility of the Cuban statistical service is based on trust in the ONEI as an agency representing the interests of the Cuban government, especially directed at the nation’s social development.

Final considerations

The statistical information systems are a vital resource for democratic societies. They have an influence in many of the decisions made by governments, the administrators of public services and the private sector; and these decisions undeniably have a direct impact on citizens.

Public statistics provide citizens with a panorama of the work and performance of the public agencies and it is necessary that that information be described correctly and the accessible and open services be coordinated.

As an information system, the SIEN is a legitimating mechanism of the Cuban public administration is a legitimising mechanism of the Cuban public administration. In this sense, it points to the control and centralisation of information. The services on the web have technological limitations, which makes their use complex.

Bibliography

Cuba. Council of State. Decree-Law No. 281/11. On the government’s information system. In Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba. Havana, Wednesday February 23, 2011. Special edition. Year CIX, Number 10, p. 29.

IFLA. IFLA manifesto about the Internet 2014. [Internet] Available on: < http://www.ifla.org/publications/node/224> [Access November 25, 2014].

Communist Party of Cuba. 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. Guidelines of the economic and social policy of the Party and the Revolution. Havana, April 18, 2011.

 

 

 

 

1 This work forms part of a paper presented during LASA, 2015.

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