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The Importance of Census and other Secondary Data in Development Studies.

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In today'slesson, we will learn about the importance of using census and other secondary data sources for development research. When we are researching development issues, particularly from the developing countries, it is extremely important for researchers to keep in mind the kind of secondary data that is emanating or emerging from various government sources. Often, it is very costly to not have official data sources or official data by the government,on which different policies can be formulated and interventions be carried out. Researchers Should be slightly suspicious of areas in which secondary data does not exist; or of countries where secondary data is not coming out at regular frequency. Because, that affects the overall planning and design of where we want to go, as far as a particular policy is concerned. So, in today's lesson, our focus will be on looking at what is the importance of what we call official statistics, what is official statistics. And the focus will be on Indian official statistics and to understand the statistical architecture of India, particularly with respect to development studies research.So, what we will cover in today's lecture is as follows.We will understand what is official statistics; what are the fundamental principles of official statistics. I will also give you a very brief historical perspective of official statistics in India. And then, we will come to an overview of the present Indian Statistical System.And lastly, I will impress upon the students as to the importance of census and other secondary data in development studies research. So, let us begin with this question about official statistics.Often, when you are conducting research in development issues, you may have come across questions such as: Have you looked up the official data? What is the official data?For example, anybody who is conducting research in the areas of poverty, let us say for example,you would often face questions as to, what is the official headcount ratio of poverty;what are the official poverty estimates; whether it is 30%, 20%, 25%. It is a different question regarding how these estimates are arrived at. But the first question to ask is, where are these coming from, and how reliable these statistics are, and whether or not we should be focusing or relying on these statistics for carrying our development research. So,that is the focus of today's lesson. So, official statistics basically means, statistics that are derived by the government agencies from statistical surveys, administrative and registration records and other forms and papers. The statistical analysis of which are published regularly or planned to be published regularly or could reasonably be published regularly.And the primary aim of official statistics is to provide an accurate, up to date, comprehensive and meaningful empirical picture of the society and economy to support the formulation and monitoring of economic and social policies by the government.Now, as official statistics is produced within the government, its credibility and integrity depend upon the professional independence of the various government agencies or the statistical agencies that are bringing out these data and statistics. Now, professional independence is essentially a prerequisite and the means to provide objective statistical information free from any kinds of pressures from within the government. And therefore,that is one of the important things to keep in mind or one of the important things to ensure within a democratic setup, as to how independently the statistical agencies are putting out the estimates. And it is being discussed and analyzed by the public at large.Therefore, official statistics also has a democratic connotation to it, in the sense that, official statistics is largely for public consumption. But of course, the governments also need to comment upon whether these statistics are being properly used and are properly interpreted or not. Now, the statistical system is laterally decentralized among the ministries of government of India and in every one of them vertically decentralized between the Centre and the states. At the national level, the Ministry of Statistics And Programme Implementation is the nodal ministry, is the nodal organization. And we will look at this bifurcation with regard to the different tires of the statistical agencies that are bringing out this information in some time.But before that, let us look at some of the fundamental principles of official statistics.Along with what is official statistics, we also need to know what are the fundamental principles of official statistics. One of the first principles is that official statistics must meet the test of practical utility and are to be compiled and made available on animpartial basis by official statistical agencies to honor citizens' entitlement to public information.So, every citizen of this country is entitled to public information. And therefore, one of the principles of official statistics is to ensure that this information is coming out in an impartial manner to be used by the public at large. For example, you have the census of India, which gives out various important estimates. For example, with respect to demographicinformation such as fertility rates, mortality rates, that we can calculate from the censusdata; sex ratio or literacy rates; various worker and non-worker status estimates thatcome out from the census are some of the prime examples.The second principle is that the methods and procedures for collection, processing, storageand presentation of statistical data need to be according to strictly professional considerations,including scientific principles and professional ethics. And this is again very important,because when statistical agencies are bringing out the data, there needs to be proper ethical guidelines with respect to how the data needs to be collected and processed and brought out to the public. And India has a long history of creating such statistical systems. And They have stood the test of time. A third principle is to facilitate a correct interpretation of the data. The statistical agencies are to present information according to scientific standards, on the sources, methods and procedures of the statistics. And here,over a period of time, over the period of last 3 or 4 decades, various international organizations have also laid down guidelines and Indian statistical agencies have tried to align themselves to the international guidelines, so that data can emerge, which are comparable across countries and across time. A fourth principle is that the statistical agencies are entitled to comment on erroneous interpretation and misuse of statistics. This Is again a very important factor with regard to using official statistics. When as researchers we embark upon the journey of analyzing statistical data and from our earlier classes, you would know that the data is not able to tell a story all by itself, but it largely depends upon the paradigms that we are using for our research and the kind of story that we want to provide to our data. And in these circumstances, if we are coming from different paradigms or we have different philosophical assumptions regarding how we want to use the data, it runs the risk of being misutilized or misinterpreted, and therefore, then it becomes the responsibility of the statistical agencies to comment upon how best to use the information.The fifth principle is with regard to the quality, timeliness, costs and burdens on respondent. Data for statistical purposes may be drawn from all types of sources, bethey statistical surveys or administrative records. And statistical agencies are to choose the source with regard to quality, timeliness, costs and burden on respondents. For example,when we talk about child nutrition for example, we know that there are various indicators with regard to child nutrition, data on which is not collected by the census of India. However,there are various vital statistics that are collected through a sample registration system in different intervals from the various administrative units such as the panchayats, by the Anganwadiworkers and the ASHA workers, which are maintained in their records that can be used for further analysis. So, therefore, it is the autonomy of the statistical agencies themselves to decide with regard to what are the data sources that they want to collect data on and compile them for further use. A sixth principle is with regard to individual data collected by statistical agencies for statistical compilation, whether they refer to natural or legal persons are to be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes of research purposes; and mostly when you are using it for policy formulation.Therefore, the data is highly confidential and has to be used exclusively.Seventh principle is that the laws, regulations and measures under which the statistical systems operate are to be made public. The public at large must be aware of what are the laws, rules and regulations under which the data is being collected, personalized data is being collected from them. Whether they are entitled, whether they are bound to provide information to the statistical agencies regarding the information that is being collected from them.So, therefore, that is also within the mandate of the official statistics, laws, rules and regulations, that the officials must be ready to carry out.Eighth principal is regarding the coordination among statistical agencies within countries to achieve consistency and efficiency in the statistical system. So obviously, when we are carrying out, when the official agencies are carrying out data collection processes,it needs to be compatible across time. And therefore, efficiency and consistency are2 important markers that need to be looked out, as far as official statistics is concerned.A ninth principle is that the use by statistical agencies in each country of international concepts, classifications and methods promote the consistency and efficiency of statistical systems at all official levels. And lastly, bilateral and multilateral cooperation in statistics contributes to the improvement of systems of official statistics in all countries.So, in a way to summarize what is official statistics, these are statistics that are put out by the government through its various statistical agencies. And it is largely a merit good, a public good. The amount of official statistics that are coming out is to be used by the public at large, for understanding the different kinds of policies that are being designed and implemented for them. So, in that sense this is a merit good on which every citizen of India is entitled to gather information, public information regarding the data that is being collected. And as far as development researches are concerned, these kinds of data that are coming out which form secondary data sources, when we carry out our study are extremely essential for us to base our hypothesis on and sometimes, to also give an overall picture of what we are setting out to do.Now, let us get a brief historical perspective of official statistics in India, because official statistics in India has a long history and we have been churning out official statistics particularly with regard to demographics in India, right from the pre-independence period.And that will also give you a sense of what are the data to look out for when we are doing some kind of a long-term analysis or a longitudinal study on certain indicators.Now the foundation of the statistical system in India was laid by the British administration,because the provincial governments were required to publish relevant statistics in their annual administration reports. And this is how the first Statistical Abstract of British Indiawas based on information provided by the provinces. The first significant development in the pre-independence era was the constitution of a Statistical Committee in 1862, for the preparation of forms to collect statistical information on different subject areas. So, you have theStatistical Committee published, Statistical Abstract of British India from 1868 to 1923.The director general of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics until 1914 was responsible for compilation and publication of almost all the principle statistical information on demography, crop production and prices, rainfall, industrial production, education and health, etcetera. And the first Agricultural Statistics of British India was brought out in 1886, following the recommendations of the Indian Famine Commission. And some of you who are aware of this literature would know that, the 1860s and the 1870s, the later part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, where famineswere a regular occurrence in India. Various statistical exercises took place at the behest of the British Government to come up with the number of deaths that occurred due to famines. And that is how we have very reliable information with regard to famine deaths inIndia, right from the pre-independence period.In April 1914, a separate Directorate of Statistics came into being. And subsequently, the Directorate Of Statistics and Commercial Intelligence department were merged into a single organization.Professor P. C. Mahalanobis, who is regarded as a pioneer in both theoretical and professional statistics, was appointed as the first statistical advisor to the Cabinet, Government of India,in January 1949. And that also marked the coming of the era of development planning in India, which gave significant impetus to the development of statistics.And that also saw the formation of the National Sample Survey Organization in 1950, which was empowered to collect information through sample surveys in a variety of socio-economic aspects. And along with the Census of India, the National Sample Survey Organization is another very important data source, providing sample data, a large sample data on various aspects. For example, on employment, unemployment; consumption, expenditure; on morbidity, mortality rates; on occupational structures of the country and so on. So, these are two important data sources, which saw its beginning, because of this kind of a statistical revolution happening in the country post-independence. Certain important information to keep in mind:The first complete population census was conducted in 1881, on a uniform basis throughout the country. In 1948, following a Census Act, a permanent Office of the Registrar Generaland Census Commissioner was created. And Professor P. V. Sukhatme served as Statistical Advisor To Ministry of Agriculture; and was responsible for the development of Agricultural Statistics.In 1961, the Department of Statistics was set up in the Cabinet Secretariat. And in1973, the Department of Statistics became a part of the Ministry of Planning. In October1999, the Department of Statistics and Programme Implementation was declared as a Ministryof Statistics and Programme Implementation. And the Indian Statistical Institute was registered in 1932 under the directorship of Professor P. C. Mahalanobis for carrying out further research on official statistics in India. So, this is a brief timeline of how the statistical system in India has developed. And, a number of changes have happened within the statistical system over the period of the last 2 decades. So, let us try and understand the Indian StatisticalSystem.This will give you an overview of the present Indian Statistical System. As I pointed out in the beginning, it is decentralized. We are a federal system. The Centre and the states together churn out statistical information. So, it is largely decentralized with elements of Central supervision. The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation is a nodal agency for all statistical activities at all India levels. And at the state, we have the Directorate Of Economics and Statistics that carry out the responsibility of coordination by liaising with the Ministry of Statistics, for the purpose of coordination at all India level; and for maintaining norms and standards in the field of official statistics. So, at the Central Level, we have the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. And every state has a Directorate of Economics and Statistics for churning out what is called official statistics in India.So, this is how the organizational structure of Indian Statistical System looks like. The Ministry; and then there are other Central Line Ministries and Departments. Under theMinistry of Statistics, we have 2 agencies, the Central Statistical Office, sometimes also called the Central Statistical Organization, CSO and NSSO, National Sample Survey Organization.And both of them in coordination direct the Directorates of Economics and Statistics in the states and union territories. And under the Central Line Ministries and Department,we also have their counterpart departments in various states and union territories. However,all of these agencies work in unison, trying to coordinate with each other, their activities with regard to collection of data.Now, the Ministry of Statistics has 2 wings. One is related to statistics and the otheris Programme Implementation. The statistics wing is called the National Statistical Organisation,which consists of the CSO, the NSSO, the Computer Centre and Coordination and Publication Division.The Indian Statistical Institute, which is a premier statistical institute, receives budgetary support from the Ministry of Statistics. The CSO consists of 5 divisions, the NationalAccounts Division; Economic Statistics Division; the Social Statistics Division; Training Division;and Coordination and Publication Division. CSO also has an Industrial Statistics Wing Namely the CSO-IS Wing. And the NSSO functions under the overall direction of a SteeringCommittee with requisite independence and autonomy in the matter of collection, processing and publication of NSS data.So, this is the flow diagram of what I just mentioned. You have the Ministry of Planning And Programme Implementation at the Centre. They have a Department of Programme Implementationand a Computer Centre. And then, there is NSSO and the CSO. NSSO has a Field OperationsDivision; Survey Design and Research Division; a Data Processing Division; Coordination andPublication Division. Similarly, CSO has a National Accounts Division; Industrial StatisticsDivision; Miscellaneous Statistics Division; Social Statistics Division; Training and InternationalCoordination Division. The Industrial Statistics Division also has a wing which is called aCSO-IS, Central Statistical Organization Industrial Statistics Wing located in Calcutta.Now, for those of you who are working on secondary data sources for collecting quantitative data on development statistics; and are interested for example, in understanding how different large sample surveys are designed by the NSSO, it will be very helpful to visit the SurveyDesign and Research Division of the NSSO, to understand the larger survey designs and how surveys are carried out. And although these designs are also disseminated through reports, which are freely available on the website of the Ministry of Statistics andProgramme Implementation, and I would urge each one of you who is interested in looking up these data to visit the website of the ministry and download the reports. The reports are available right from the 1950s and 1960s onwards. They are all digitized these days.And accessibility has become easier, as far as these NSSO and CSO reports are concerned.Okay. Now, let us come to the question of why census and other secondary data are important in development studies. Now, one of the first reasons why it is important is of course that it is vital to evaluating development progress and making comparisons over time and between countries. And it also helps us to provide a context for in-depth field studies. Forexample, if we go back to our example of complimentary feeding practices that we have been takingin the last classes, in the earlier classes, for being able to identify the field withregard to where we want to conduct a study on complimentary feeding, we might want tolook up, say, for example, the juvenile sex ratio rates for a certain location since the1960s onwards. And post-independence, we do have census data available from 1951 onwards.And this is how it enables us to compare very basic indicators that contribute to our larger study over a period of time. So, it provides a context for in-depth field studies. It also helps us to make wider generalizations from the results of small-scale questionnaire surveys and focused interview research. It is also useful in making an initial exploration of potential relationships in the development arena that can later be examined in more detail through primary field work. It can be used as essential evidence to test ideas in development studies. To take an example, suppose one is working at the occupational structure of the country during the period of 1990s and 2000s. Now, one of the starting points would be to look at how the occupational structure of the country was right from the1950s onwards. And whether we see any kind of a change. And one of the important indicators to begin with could be the worker and non-worker estimate of a certain country. And now, we know that census data gives out information on worker population and non-worker population.Similarly, main worker population, marginal workers population. And these estimates can be drawn from the census for over a period of time and then compared which will give us a general idea of how things are, how things have been. And that can give us a motivation to carry out further research for a more contemporary period that we are attempting.So, it can be used as essential evidence to test ideas in development studies. It should be an essential starting point for most evidence-based research concerned with past and future policymaking. It provides a means to interpret trends over time and to generalize about the processes responsible for a demographic change. Now, censuses provide the best method to relate population data to a wide range of other socio-economic information at a particular point in time for a national or regional population as a whole. It provides unique opportunities for researching interrelationships between population and the key drivers of demographic change.There is also a possibility of detailed spatial disaggregation which is of special value to planners and policymakers. For example, census data gives us information at various disaggregated levels. We get data at the state level, at the district level, at the block level andalso, if we can identify from the data, at the panchayat level, as well as at the revenuevillages level. So, the various levels of disaggregation at which data is available has a possibility of detailed spatial disaggregation. And that can have huge consequences for policy planning and for policymakers.Official statistics also provide a benchmark for what government and state organizations recognize to be the state of affairs about the populations and economic systems. Lack Of reliable statistical information is not only an obstacle to doing research, but it also opens the door to politicians making untestable assertions about validity and success of their policies. We can take a simple example of literacy rates. If literacy rates over a period of time in a certain village have not shown any remarkable increase, then we can safely conclude or we can draw some conclusions with regard to a schooling infrastructure in that locality. And whether the spread of schooling has increased over a period of time or not. This is just to give you a very simple example of how to check the untestable assertions about validity and success of policies. The next figure reveals that it is the location with the poorest political stability and those with the harshest authoritarian regimes which have failed to enumerate their populations. This is what I meant when I said that official statistics or bringing out official statistics is also a democratic exercise. Because experience has shown us that countries with more authoritarian regimes have been less successful in churning out census data. And that leads to serious debilitating concerns with regard to policy planning and implementation.So, these are countries in Africa and Asia, which had had no census between 1994 and 2003,because of various issues, various kinds of peace and conflict issues in these regions.And that has had serious implications on policy planning.Now, let us also understand the changing context of census taking and analysis. Because even10 years back or 15 years back, development researchers did not have access to, open access to census data online. But these days, because of the intrusion of technology and because of the enabling factors of technology, dissemination has become very easy. And it has become very easy for development researchers to have access to these data. But it is also important to understand the changing context of census taking and analysis with regard to various other issues. Now, technological development has made it easy to collect and analyze census data. We have software that helps us analyze the data much better and put it out in the public domain with a less time gap. The penetration of modern transport networks to most of the world's inaccessible regions has reduced the need for population estimates to be made by aerial surveys. Now, improvements in literacy have led to more accurate and meaningful responses to census questions and to other demographic surveys. This is one very important changing context, because of the experience of people with regard to census surveys or sample surveys; and also because of the awareness among the population at large, regarding policy initiatives and policy implementation, people have become smarter in terms of responding to the questions that are posed at them. And therefore, we have more accurate and meaningful responses. But on the flip side of it is that people have also come up with ways of dodging questions and providing wrong responses for keeping in view the policy benefits that they might get, if they answer their questions as such.So, quantity as well as quality of official statistics information have improved. In India,like most developing countries, the pace of publication of results has improved, making the most recent census much more useful to researchers than in the past. Often, you would see that the 2001 and 2011 censuses are highly referenced than the earlier census data, because of the digitization that has occurred with regard to these census data. And they are being used more frequently. And connecting data between different sources has also become much easier. And there are various researchers who are working on projects of connecting these different official data sources and coming up with more meaningful interpretations.However, there are also problems in working with the census material. That also needs to be pointed out. And development researchers must bear these in mind. One is that the data,simply because it has been collected by a government agency, may not be accurate. As The government agenda with regard to what is it that needs to be put out more can bias the amount of information that is coming out. This may be for political reasons or because of the way the questions are worded. Some researchers argue that even if the data could be trusted, human dimensions of development cannot be readily captured in numerical form and that in-depth qualitative research is more effective in extending understanding.However, official data sources hardly ever focus on any qualitative questions, because of the amount of information that is being collected and the size of the population that is being covered. Census is a huge exercise of counting the entire population of the country. And therefore, there is a lot of reductionism as far as census data is concerned, because the data is reduced to numbers. And there is no scope for collecting and processing qualitative information. Similarly, the NSSO, the CSO, you have other data sources such as the National Family Health Survey, which is carried out by the InternationalInstitute of Population Sciences, the Demographic Health Surveys, which are ultimately in the form of numerical. And therefore, there are perceptions, there are arguments that say that the human dimensions are not being covered properly due to these surveys.Now, census data, like all secondary data, reflect the objectives and value systems of the organizations who pay for design and publish the data. They are inflexible sources of information,relative to the theory-led objectives of most academic researchers, as well as being problematic because they are inescapably cultural and political products. The very fact that they are coming out of the government agencies, they are political products in that sense that, there is a lot of apprehension with regard to what these different government official statistics are trying to portray. However, given the massive scale in which the data is collected and the consistency and ethical guidelines that guide the collection of these data, the procedures of data collection of these official statistics, it is imperative on the part of development researchers to make a beginning with official statistics.And point out if there are discrepancies based upon their own data collection, if any, through dissemination of reports or publications.The census takers may be less concerned than the researcher would be in critically evaluating the categories used to collect and later classify the data.