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Thematic Reviews

Statistics (2003, extract out of Third Progress Report)

30. The review covered three projects executed by the Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in collaboration with the respective regional commissions in the Caribbean region, in Eastern Asia and in the ESCWA region, focusing on specific subregional groupings of countries like Caribbean Community (CARICOM) (15 countries), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (10 countries) and ESCWA (13 countries). In all three cases the projects were built on existing institutional subregional frameworks, which ensured long-term sustainability.

31. The objective of all three projects was threefold: (a) to strengthen statistical capacity at the national level; (b) to strengthen regional cooperation in the field of statistics; and (c) to inform Member States about ongoing global developments of statistical standards and norms and involve them therein. All projects started with a need assessment exercise determining the particular substantive focus of the projects (e.g., CARICOM: environment statistics, social/gender statistics, and information technology).

32. The national counterparts and project beneficiaries were clearly identified as the national statistical offices, which have longstanding relationships with the Statistics Division as they (a) represent their Governments at the Statistical Commission; (b) provide data for the Division’s global data collection; (c) participate as experts in the Division’s normative and analytical work; and (d) are partners in the Division’s regular programme of technical cooperation. Therefore, for all three projects the heads of the national statistical offices of the countries involved effectively guided the projects through a steering committee mechanism. The Division was able to build thereby on the existing networks, like the Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians, the ASEAN Head of Statistical Offices meetings and the ESCWA Statistics Committee. These committees were strengthened, as they actively participated in the initial project formulation and in subsequent project adjustments and reviews. The mechanism of convening at least one network meeting per year ensured national ownership and the continued relevance of all project activities as well as strengthening the collaboration in the region.

33. The primary vehicles for capacity-building delivery were training workshops in the selected substantive fields (e.g., under the ASEAN project 14 regional workshops were held in four areas: national and satellite accounting; development indicators; statistical organization; and management information technology). Furthermore, national statistical capacity was built through individual study tours and advisory missions. All projects also included procurement of hardware and statistical software as part of the information technologies component. An important success factor for all three projects was the engagement of local support staff (United Nations Volunteers for CARICOM and ASEAN and a local project coordinator in ESCWA), who were placed in the subregional partner institutions and were instrumental in local communication and management as well as in supporting substantive training.

34. The emphasis on tangible delivery of outputs in the CARICOM and ASEAN projects helped to forge effective expert networks at the working level. CARICOM produced the CARICOM Environment in Figures 2002 and Women and Men in the Caribbean Community: Facts and Figures, 1980-2001. ASEAN produced ASEAN in Figures. In both subregions the compilation and dissemination of similar regional products in the future is under consideration.

35. According to the feedback received from participants in workshops and from a final project evaluation seminar (in the case of ASEAN), the projects have been successful in: (a) building national capacity; and (b) creating expert networks. An example of national initiatives as a consequence of the project is the publication of first national environment statistics compendia in Grenada, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname. Examples of the creation of regional networks are the CARICOM advisory group on environmental and social statistics and the ASEAN taskforce on statistical classifications. These networks reflect the commitment of the countries in the regions for further cooperation beyond the project horizon.

36. All three projects were implemented with a clearly identified regional partner institution (CARICOM secretariat, ASEAN secretariat, ESCWA). The strengthening of the statistical capacity of the regional partner institution was an integral part of the project objectives. The most visible success in this respect is the creation of a small statistical unit in the ASEAN secretariat, financed by ASEAN secretariat resources. In addition to the partner institutions, other regional stakeholders and funding agencies actively participated in and contributed to the project activities, enhancing their impact and sustainability. The most important examples are the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, UNEP, ESCAP and the Asian Development Bank.

37. The three projects were closely linked to the normative and analytical work of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. In response to paragraph 3 of Economic and Social Council resolution 2000/27, in which the Council called for the strengthening of national capacity to produce statistics and indicators in the context of monitoring progress towards conference and summit goals, all three projects included elements related to global conference indicators, like the CARICOM project which explicitly targeted the capacity to compile social and environmental conference indicators. By improving basic statistical capacity the projects have enhanced the ability of countries to compile and disseminate indicators.

38. The project drew on the existing capacity of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to contribute to and present training materials at workshops. This ensured that the countries were briefed on the latest international developments in terms of statistical concepts and methodologies. At the same time the exposure of expert Department statisticians normally involved in normative and analytical work to field realities, provided useful feedback for the Department’s future conceptual and methodological work.

39. A strong commitment of countries of the subregions to work together facilitated the implementation of the projects. This was most positively felt in the ASEAN region. Major disruptions in the project implementation were caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in Asia and the situation in Iraq. Both events lead to the postponement of several regional workshops and fellowships in the ASEAN and ESCWA regions.