1.4.1. An overview
Inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are the primary actors in the collection and dissemination of international aggregate data. These organisations have the capacity to produce very high quality multi-national databanks as they have a presence in every country in the world, the leverage to charge countries to deliver the data and the power to create international standards. National statistical agencies are the main source of data, and one of the functions of international agencies is to provide technical assistance and financial resources to national statistical agencies that are struggling to build their national statistical infrastructures. Data are also collected from central banks, government agencies and through specialist surveys.
Inter-governmental organisations have been central to the establishment and adoption of the common standards and definitions used by countries worldwide to report their data. For example, balance of payment data (which record of the flows of goods, services and finance between an economy and the rest of the world) is collected using a methodological framework developed by the IMF. The collection of standardised, comparable and timely balance of payment data is seen as a core task of the Fund, as one of its primary functions is to prevent financial crises and assist countries in balance of payment difficulties. As a consequence, the Fund produces the Balance of Payments Manual, used by countries worldwide to produce their balance of payments data in a common format. The manual was first published in 1948 and successive editions were published in 1950, 1961, 1977, and 1993 to reflect changing economic circumstances and analytic requirements. The Fund is now consulting on a new version of the manual that will clarify reporting on more recent issues such as monetary union (the euro-zone for example) or migratory workforces (with increasing globalization, more people have connections to two or more economies).
Some IGO's have open dissemination policies. The World Health Organization, for example, makes all the data it produces freely available online through its Statistical Information System. However, for most IGOs, the dissemination of data is limited and often carried out through subscription services. The UK is unique in that, through ESDS International, the UK academic community has free web-based access to the major databanks produced by the IMF, World Bank and other major international governmental organisations. There is more about ESDS International in the next section.