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Official statistics in Germany is characterised by a decentralised polit=
ical system that divides the functions of government between the central go=
vernment and 16 regional (Länder) governments. As a result, each regio=
n (Land) may have a statistical office of its own. Because some Länder=
merged their statistical offices, there are now 14 Länder offices in =
total. These offices are organisationally entirely independent institutions=
For the purpose of compiling most federal statistics (those ordered = by a federal law), there is a predefined work sharing scheme between the of= fices. The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) as the central authority i= s responsible for the methodological and technical preparation of the surve= ys and for the compilation and publication of nationwide results. The stati= stical offices of the Länder are responsible for the core processes of= statistical production. Despite that, there are also several cases in whic= h Destatis collects and processes data itself, e.g. in the area of foreign = trade.
It is an important feature of the statistical system in Germany that for= every major statistical activity* a law has first to be passed by parliame= nt. For those statistical activities that involve federal and Länder o= ffices, both the federal parliament and the parliaments of the Länder = have to be consulted. The laws usually specify who is legally obliged to pr= ovide the information and what information is sought.
Apart from the statistics compiled by the statistical offices, there are= also some statistics that are produced by other official agencies. For exa= mple, some of the data on unemployment comes from the Federal Employment Ag= ency (Bundesagentur fuer Arbeit).
To organise the work in the "Verbund" - as the network of fede= ral and Länder offices is known in German - a number of working groups= exist with several governing committees on top. Senior governing committee= s are staffed with the heads of offices. Work sharing also extends to the a= rea of IT-development. IT-systems that are to be used by all offices are pu= t out to tender among the offices in the Verbund on the basis of an agreed = business case (dubbed the "one for all"-policy).
Destatis itself is mostly organised according to subject areas and there= fore resembles the classic case of a stovepipe organisation. There are curr= ently six subject matter divisions and three central divisions. The central= divisions deal with administration and legal questions (Division A), infor= mation technology (Division C) and management, dissemination and coordinati= on issues (Division B). Methodological issues are split between Division&nb= sp;C (mathematical methods) and Division B (research and development).= More details can be found in the organizational chart.
Metadata management has been an issue in the statistical system in Germa= ny for many years. Maybe typical for a federal system, solutions have been = found and implemented in isolated areas but they have not been coordinated = through a common strategy. The current situation therefore resembles a &quo= t;bottom-up" approach rather than a unified "top-down" solut= ion.
The experience at Destatis and in the Verbund, however, shows that there= is a strong need for a more coherent approach to handling metadata in the = future. Several key projects in the Verbund - like standardisation of produ= ction or quality management - depend on standardised structures and concept= s to understand the content of the different statistical activities in a co= herent and uniform way. A metadata strategy would also help to provide a fr= amework for the different projects.
Any future metadata strategy would need to be formulated in accordance w= ith at least the most important stakeholders and it would need to be approv= ed by the responsible committees. Therefore, it is not likely to take shape= and become formally adopted in the near future. In the near past = ;there were several projects - independently planned and implemented - that= involved a centralised metadata management. The task is to combi= ne the projects in a way that at least the outline of a common metadata str= ategy starts to emerge.
There are currently two major projects that involve centralised metadata= management.
The Census 2011 in Germany is carried out by the Verbund. It is based on= a method that combines administrative sources with survey data. To deal wi= th content from so many different sources a strong metadata management is n= eeded. Hence, a working group has been instituted to deal with metadata iss= ues and especially with the development of an IT-system for the management = of census metadata. The working group is staffed with methodologists, IT-ex= perts and subject matter statisticians from some Länder offices and De= statis.
The Census 2011 is currently the most important project and certainly th= e most pressing issue for Destatis in terms of metadata. To deal with the c= omplexity of the project, it has been broken down into several sub-projects= for which business cases are being written.
SteP is a joint initiative of the Verbund to standardise production. A m= ajor objective of SteP is the design and deployment of generic IT-tools as = building blocks of a standardised IT-landscape. Although SteP currently dea= ls predominantly with IT-issues, a stronger involvement of subject matter e= xperts should strengthen its outreach in the future.
SteP is organised around a simple process model that names the basic pro= cesses mainly in the collection and processing stages (see Section 2.3,&nbs= p;fig. 2). There are sub working groups (called "steps") dealing = with individual aspects of the statistical value chain (see here). A sub working group for metadata - called "step 12-met= adata" has recently been established.
The idea behind this sub working group was to develop a metadata portal.= This web portal shall allow users to access the metadata stored in already= existing IT-systems. Basically, every system that stores metadata could be= come part of this project. At first, the portal is only intended for intern= al users. Since there is no general metadata model that standardises and ex= plains the content of the underlying systems, the results would only be con= fusing for any outside reader.
In general, SteP has so far been a successful project for Destatis and t= he Verbund. In several of the most urgent areas, production was streamlined= and economies of scale could be exploited. There is now a centralised stor= age facility for finalised micro data (accessible only to Länder offic= es) and a data editing tool that can be integrated into existing environmen= ts. Apart from the metadata portal, important ongoing projects within SteP = include a database for incoming data.
A drawback of SteP is that there is no underlying, generally accepted me= tadata model guiding the project. While data can be passed on along the pro= duction chain, metadata is left behind resulting amongst other things in a = redundant storage of metadata. As the standardisation process continues, th= is could become a problem of greater concern. Internal users might be confu= sed with different IT-systems each using a different structure and a differ= ent terminology. The interoperability of the systems might also suffer beca= use a metadata model usually embodies a generalised understanding of the wa= y statistical activities are structured.
The task for step 12-metadata is to find a way to harmonise the differen= t IT-systems in a way that the metadata stored can first be accessed and un= derstood by users and secondly be shared by all IT-systems along the value = chain.
Apart from these major projects, there are several other activities that= involve centralized metadata management issues at Destatis. There is for e= xample a close cooperation between quality reporting and metadata managemen= t since they overlap in many ways.