Help Statisticians to Get Better Data!
by Kiyanna Admin
October 20, 2015

Whenever I read statistical reports, I try to imagine my unfortunate contemporary, the Average Person, who, according to these reports, has 0.66 children, 0.032 cars, and 0.046 TVs” – Hungarian interpreter, Kato Lomb.

Yes, statistics can be a bit daunting. All those percentages, rates and ratios; at times you might find it hard to interpret.

But a world without statistics would be one without reliable information about our society and how it functions. Today, many governmental policies are based on statistics – on education, economics, development practices and other aspects.

Statistics show us which issues require immediate attention, and which can wait a bit longer.

Recognising this, the United Nations has dedicated a day for statistics: today, 20 October, is World Statistics Day. This year’s theme is ‘Better data, better lives’.

Challenges in Collecting Data

In Sri Lanka, most official statistics are collected, interpreted and shared with the public by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS). Established 67 years ago, the DCS is well equipped, has well trained staff, and some of Sri Lanka’s leading statistical experts work there.

Information they have gathered and published include, important information such as the Colombo Consumer Price Index and Inflation for each week of the month, and this report which shows where the poverty line lies at each district for each month of the year.

But their work is made harder by many people’s general reluctance to disclose personal information in surveys.

At an event organized by the DSC on 16 October, officials explained that they make every effort to protect people’s privacy. But Sri Lankans are generally unwilling to divulge information nonetheless – especially those in urban areas who are higher up the income ladder! According to them, those living in condominiums are the hardest to interview.

Dr. A. J. Satharasinghe, Director General of the Department of Census and Statistics Sri Lanka at the National Seminar for World Statistics Day 2015

Director of the DCS, Mrs. Indika Bandara, told Kiyanna: “Some people don’t know about the importance of data collection. Normally we send them a letter informing them when we will be visiting and what the survey is about. But some people don’t open their doors and especially in urban areas they don’t cooperate with us”.

She explains that the DCS data collection staff is well trained and understands the importance of privacy. Those collecting data make special effort by gathering telephone numbers, phoning candidates and making appointments for times and days that are convenient for the interview subjects.

As an alternative DSC has tried several different methods. They have emailed people in case respondents feel more comfortable providing written responses. DCS has even created a website on which people can fill in and submit information.

However, Bandara says, this isn’t how they should ideally collect information. “We need to meet people and get the information”, she stresses, “this way we can ask follow up questions and probe questions, and get a better understanding of the situation”.

Why you should help the DCS if they contact you

Inaugural of the 14th Census of Population and Housing conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics on Feb 27, 2012 at the residence of former President Rajapaksa – pic by Sudath Silva/Infolanka

If you think you’re just one person – it won’t make a difference if they don’t interview you or perhaps they could just find someone else — you are wrong.

Bandara explains that interviewing millions of Sri Lankans is impossible. So they select a sample that represents the population well and only then do they carry out their surveys.

“If we miss one household then the sample is not properly represented. In our sampling method, one person represents about 3,000 people in the country. If we don’t have that information we will have to make an assumption”.

This means that the population isn’t accurately represented, and some assumptions can be off the mark.

So if you find yourself contacted by the DCS data collector, you may want to be a bit forthcoming. After all, your responses will help policy makers form policies that will help improve your life.



Kiyanna Admin