Doc. Ing. Iva Ritschelová, CSc.: I want to combine what I love with where my work has a social benefit

ritshelovaDoc. Ing. Iva Ritschelová, CSc. (1964) – graduated from the Technical University of Liberec (former Technical University of Mechanical and Textile Engineering) and also from the University of Economics in Prague.  She was engaged in the Social-Economic Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Ústí nad Labem in 1988.  She worked in the Environmental Institute Ústí nad Labem at the position of scientific and research worker from 1989-1992 and in the Czech Statistical Office, within the Division Ústí nad Labem as the Head of Environmental Statistics Department in 1993-1998. Iva Ritschelová also participated within countless working visits and foreign missions. She was engaged, among other things, within the UN Food and Agricultural Organization in the Statistics Division, in Rome, Italy as the regional officer for Europe, countries of the former Soviet Union, China and Mongolia in 1998-2001. In the years 2001-2007 she was engaged at the J. E. Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem as the Vice-rector in Science and International Relations. At this University, she was appointed the Rector in 2007. Iva Ritschelová was appointed the President of the Czech Statistical Office in 2010. At the same time, Iva Ritschelová is a member of many advisory bodies of ministers, scientific, art and editorial boards, graduation councils and academic assemblies of universities, colleges and scientific-research institutes. She is an author of more than twenty domestic and foreign monographs, several tenths of scientific and professional papers, textbooks and research studies.

Could you touch on some changes you have completed in your Office after the departure of your predecessor, Jan Fischer?

These were mainly personnel and organizational changes. Given the ever-decreasing budget of the Czech Statistical Office (ČSÚ), immediately when I took the Office, there was a pretty unpleasant task ahead me – layoffs and significant simplification of the ČSÚ´s organizational structure. Regional administrations have newly begun to operate since the start of the New Year, which previously operated in particular regions in the past. The Director of regional administration will be the regional representative of offices acquainted with requirements of local users, and also fully responsible for effective management of workplaces within the region. Other significant changes occurred in the area of public procurement and the ČSÚ´s presentation and its work towards the public. What I would yet like to mention is the establishment of a new analytical department, which was lacking and from which I expect a lot. With the beginning of 2012, the ČSÚ started to use a new more up-to-date and uniform visual style. We are also working on launching a new user friendly web page.

In what way do the budget cuts affect the current operations of the office?

We are primarily trying to reduce operational costs, and thus we have already managed to realize considerable financial savings. For instance, in 2011 we also managed, thanks to public procurement related to a new mobile operator, information system and energy supplier, savings in the amount of almost 10 million a year. However, what I consider important is the fact that budget cuts have not afflicted the range of statistical investigations so far. At the same time, due to the fact that more than 95% of statistical surveys are subject to the EU regulations, it will be very difficult to eliminate the statistical activities. I would like to emphasize that the Office’s output serves, among other things, toward the preparations and evaluations of decisions at different levels. Therefore, the cancellation of investigations would also be associated with a disruption of continuity of the time series monitored data. Thus, it concerns irreversible changes. I would like to believe that all responsible politicians realize it and that the office’s budget won’t be cut any more.

One of your priorities is also introducing measures to increase transparency of the ČSÚ. How does it work in practise?

I have newly established the Public Contracts and Legal Services Department which scrutinizes all procurements at present. Beyond this, all of the signed contracts are published on our web page. In case of smaller bids, we address a larger number of potential suppliers. And thanks to greater competition, this approach has even positive economic effects which I have already mentioned. At the same time, any texts of newly signed contracts needn’t be subject to trade secrets by the supplier. We have convinced the ICT suppliers to make the source codes of delivered solutions available, so that we could solve eventual update needs by the means of public procurement, and needn’t be bound by one particular supplier.

In mid-December you released the preliminary results of the Population and Housing Censuses (SLDB). Most people, though, perceive this project rather as a necessary evil. To whom are these figures actually served?

The outputs from the project of the decade, the SLDB, are primarily used as the basis for the decision-making sphere at all levels. For example, figures concerning economic activities of citizens are aimed at the evaluation of the occupational structure of society in relation to future labour market needs. Another indispensable figure that is used to improve the quality of life for citizens, are figures regarding commuting methods. Also, based on these data, transport services in specific territories are being optimized. The data are also used by fire brigades for rescue plans and for operative decision-making by rescue events. I could obviously give more and more specific examples, if there was enough space.

One of the projects which should in turn facilitate the life of citizens and entrepreneurs is the creation of central registers of public administration. What is the role of the ČSÚ within?

The ČSÚ will be the project manager of the Register of Persons within the project of basic registers; here there are registered legal entities and their organizational units, natural business persons, organizations with international elements, and governmental departments. And as you say correctly, the basic aim of registers is to make the life of citizens and entrepreneurs easier. Thus, for example, if you establish a trade, then registration at the trade licensing office will be sufficient, and the entire system will inform about the establishment of this new trade the other offices, i.e. the tax office, the health insurance fund, the social security administration, etc. Therefore, people can avoid the unpleasant running for offices. Beyond all of this, the interconnection of registers is a big step forward for us statisticians as well, for it strengthens the use of administrative data source.

According to my information, the majority of surveys are “ordered” by Brussels. Do you find it right that there should not come a greater decentralization within this area?

The ČSÚ´s mission is to provide reliable quality data based on requests from our users. Demand for data includes the decision-making area, the professional public, and the business area. It is always a sort of balance between national and European interests that are also in many cases identical. On the other hand, there are steadily increased pressures aimed at a new investigation of the time of the budget cuts by the EU, without being reviewed and eventually cancelled by the existing requirements. I believe that within this area, there should be more systematic work and coordination by the European Statistical Office (Eurostat). I find it positive that the Eurostat management begins to listen to complaints of member countries. Also, there will be a meeting of presidents of the national statistical offices in a few days where we will discuss the so-called negative priorities, i.e. activities that should be limited.

One of the strategic objectives of your Office is to increase the quality of statistical information. What particular steps does the ČSÚ do in this regard?

There are several ways to improve the quality of statistical information. One of them is the use of administrative data source by processing data from statistical surveys. We use the data from administrative sources to refine the registers from which respondents are selected, we incorporate them into mathematical models, and hence we must calculate data for entities that do not provide data or whose data are not available at all. This contributes to addressing less and less respondents, and thus processors have more time to devote themselves to addressed respondents, which has undoubted influence on quality improvement.  Furthermore, the improvement of quality of statistical outputs will be combined with the implementation of European project Redesign, whose aim is to improve and streamline the entire system of collection, processing, and the distribution of statistical data.

You are engaged within the world of numbers, within environmental issues at the University, and you were also involved in several dangerous missions abroad. What would you say is your life’s mission?

I want to bring together what I love with where I feel my work has a social benefit. If these conditions are fulfilled then the work becomes a hobby and no obstacle is insurmountable.

So, how do you manage to combine such a demanding profession with hobbies and family?

I can say that my life is generally without problems thanks to the great family background I have, although it is true that whatever position I have worked in, I always wore my work home.

Czech Version Available here

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Category: INTERVIEWS