Securing reliable data for development

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“Statistics is shaping our understanding of the world,” UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo said as he addressed last year’s Statistical Commission, underscoring the fundamental role that data plays for development. On 4-7 March, the Commission is gathering for its 45th session, bringing together official statisticians from all corners of the world. The event kicked off on Friday 28 February with a day-long seminar on Managing the Data revolution, followed on 3 March with a high-level forum to mark the 20th Anniversary of the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.

“The Statistical Commission has been instrumental in the establishment of a global information infrastructure. The Commission has managed to provide methodological guidance to countries, and ensure the international comparability of our data,” Mr. Wu said as he participated at the 44th session.

With representatives from some 140 Member States gathering at UN Headquarters in New York, the schedule is packed with many important agenda items aimed at ensuring that the global statistical community is responding to current and emerging challenges. This includes developing a solid measuring framework for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

“Statistics is shaping our understanding of the world”

Wu Hongbo
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General

Other issues for discussion and decisions before the Commission, which has now been in existence for 68 years, include the implementation of the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, its working methods and measures of progress. A wide range of additional topics will also be in focus including environmental-economic accounting, international trade and economic globalization statistics, disability statistics, big data and modernization of statistical systems, gender statistics, international migration statistics and environment statistics, and many more.

Guiding the work of global statistics

There is also cause to celebrate a milestone event. On 29 January, the UN General Assembly endorsed the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, a set of ten principles that codify the fundamental values and principles that govern the statistical work in order to produce reliable high-quality statistics in support of analysis and decision making. Since 1994, these principles have stood the test of time, guiding the production and dissemination of all official statistics around the globe.

To mark this endorsement as well as to celebrate the 20th anniversary, UN DESA’s Statistics Division is organizing a High-Level Forum on Official Statistics – UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. Taking place on 3 March, the event highlighted the genesis of these principles, their initial adoption and the recent endorsement by the General Assembly. It also looked at their continued relevance as well as past, current and future challenges to their implementation.

Reviewing working methods and assessing progress

In addition to reviewing its working methods, the Commission will also assess broader measures of progress, including the prospects for and the way forward towards a technically solid and globally agreed set of measures of progress. It will also examine existing proposals for a post-2015 development framework, elaborating the need for an integrated and technically robust measurement approach and identifying critical elements for the implementation of a new monitoring framework.

“Being innovative is one of the fundamental challenges of our profession because we are measuring the world and the world around us is changing continuously in so many areas,” said Stefan Schweinfest, Acting Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division, in an earlier DESA News interview.

“We also need sustainable statistics to support sustainable development”

Stefan Schweinfest
Acting Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division

“In statistics [...] there are no short cuts, there are no quick fixes,” Mr. Schweinfest said. “I am always saying, we are not taking pictures, we are actually making a movie, so when we talk about sustainable development, we also need sustainable statistics to support sustainable development,” he added.

Managing the data revolution

In addition to the regular programme of the Commission, more than 60 side events are scheduled to take place, making the Statistical Commission one of the largest and busiest events held at UN Headquarters. Kicking off already the week before, one of the events arranged by UN DESA’s Statistics Division on 28 February, puts a spotlight on “Managing the data revolution”. The term “Data Revolution” was introduced by the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons to underline the urgency for more and timelier data to monitor progress of the post-2015 development agenda.

Other events will take a closer look at food security, agricultural and rural statistics and new strategies for a gender data revolution. Common metrics on sustainability with the business sector in the post 2015 development era will also be highlighted, as will disability measurement and how to improve data collection and analysis on aging for social policies formulation, monitoring and evaluation.

The Commission, UN DESA’s Statistics Division along with statisticians from across the globe will continue their important work, collecting data and ensuring that the international community has reliable information to move towards a sustainable post-2015 development agenda.

The central role of their work, as well as the importance of supporting capacity building efforts around the world, has been stressed by Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo. “Sustained efforts are critical to build and maintain statistical capacity in developing countries. These efforts, together with sound statistical institutions, infrastructure and operations, should remain at the heart of our development agenda,” Mr. Wu said as he addressed last year’s Statistical Commission.

Follow @UNStats and #UNStats2014 for updates on the work of the Commission.

45th Session of the UN Statistical Commission
DESA’s Statistics Division
DESA News interview with Stefan Schweinfest, Acting Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division

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