Government statistics include any information or data collected and stored centrally by current or previous governing bodies. This data may represent an entire country or can focus specifically on states, territories, provinces and villages. Government statistics are often collected to answer broad questions about the general population related to health, economic status or the labour force. In regards to drowning, relevant government statistics may investigate the prevalence and distribution of factors that are directly related to, or known to influence, drowning rates.
A common collection mode for government data is a Census, which is aimed at obtaining information from the entire population of one country. The information collected through a Census is broad and aims to provide an overview of the social, economic, and demographic characteristics of a population.
In many countries, government statistics are collected by one central department. They may also be collected over a number of different departments or ministries which either specialise in the topic area being investigated (Department of Health, Department of Finance) or operate at the level which information is required (national, state, provincial, local). Data collected through the Department of Environment, Department of Infrastructure, Department of Agriculture or Department of Climate may be relevant when investigating risk factors associated with drowning.
Due to their breadth, government statistics may not provide sufficient information specific to drowning. Noting the gaps in available information can inform where the next search for data needs to take place and how specific the required information needs to be. It may be necessary to access information collected by other organisations such as commercial companies or non-profit organisations however, these sources do not always provide data at a population level. For example, it may be possible to track drowning cases through the media and use government statistics on population to calculate drowning rates per 100,000.
- Population-level data is available.
- May be free from commercial influence or bias.
- In some contexts, government statistics may be the only reliable form of information collected on a large scale.
- May be considered as more trustworthy thank other data sources by stakeholders and funders.
- Government departments may be able to provide more detailed information, or their raw data, upon request.
- Is generally free to access.
- Is broad and may not be specific enough to inform a project or intervention.
- Can be affected by under reporting (poor reach or low participation).
- Governments may not wish to disclose negative figures, resulting in not all data being publicly available.
- Data collection may be spread over multiple departments with limited internal communication, leading to fragmented and incomparable data being available.
Investigating the content and depth of available government statistics is an appropriate starting point when investigating the impact of drowning or the prevalence of risk factors associated with drowning. Use this information, which generally has good coverage and is freely accessible, to answer as many research questions as possible. During initial searches, record what gaps exist in the available data. It is important to investigate both centrally collected data and data collected by individual departments and ministries.
Government statistics usually cover a wide range of topics, many of which may be unrelated, so be prepared to broaden your search to other organisations.
Assess the situation