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Update 5 March 2020: Since this guest article was published, the Handbook on Governance Statistics was launched at an event on the sidelines of the 51st session of the UN Statistical Commission, on 5 March 2020.

The Praia Group has published a Handbook on Governance Statistics, an important stepping stone towards achieving international standards in all areas of governance statistics.

The Handbook provides guidance on eight dimensions of governance: non-discrimination and equality; participation; openness; access to and quality of justice; responsiveness; absence of corruption; trust; and safety and security.

The Praia Group has published a Handbook on Governance Statistics, an important stepping stone towards achieving international standards in all areas of governance statistics. This article reviews the evolution of the Praia Group, the important role of government statistics, and highlights of the new Handbook, which will be formally launched in March 2020.

Governance statistics are fundamental to ensuring that the relationship between the State and its peoples is inclusive, transparent and accountable. They assist in monitoring the performance of government and in better understanding the contribution of governance in its various dimensions to development. Governance statistics contribute to the measurement and realization of human rights. They can help to identify groups or sub-groups in the population that are most affected by the dysfunctions of governance systems, with a view to putting in place appropriately targeted policies, as reflected in the 2030 Agenda’s pledge to “leave no one behind.” Governance statistics can also contribute to preventing and managing conflict and violence, when used as early warning systems, and they can help foster peace, by periodically informing on State-society relations, which lie at the center of sustainable peace.

In the last three decades many organizations and scholars have worked to develop measures of governance, with developing countries leading much of the progress. In the mid-1990s, new modules were added to traditional socioeconomic surveys in developing countries. More countries are joining the efforts to improve governance measurement, leading to a better understanding of the current state of governance at a global level. However, as noted by the Friends of the Chair of the UN Statistical Commission in 2002, developing statistical indicators on governance is not easy and takes time. They recommended that the Commission establish a mechanism to develop statistical indicators of human rights and good governance . To this end, Cabo Verde’s National Statistics Institute (INECV) — having successfully piloted the “Strategy for Harmonization of Statistics in Africa on Governance, Peace and Security” (SHaSA-GPS) initiative in 2013 — proposed the creation of the Praia Group on Governance, Peace and Security Statistics (the Praia Group) at the 45th session of the UNSC in 2014. Subsequently, the vast majority of actors consulted expressed the view that peace and security are in fact constitutive dimensions of governance and should be investigated under the broad conceptual framework of governance. Therefore, the proposed group was renamed the Praia Group on Governance Statistics.

In March 2015, during the 46th session of the UNSC, the Praia Group was established to “contribute to establishing international standards and methods for the compilation of statistics on the major dimensions of governance.” As part of its mandate the Group was charged with developing a Handbook on Governance Statistics for national statistical offices, which would cover “the conceptualization, measurement methodology and dissemination of governance statistics.”

The handbook is a comprehensive resource for monitoring progress on SDG 16.

Now publicly available and ready to be launched during the UN Statistical Commission’s 51st session in March 2020, the Handbook is primarily targeted towards national statistical agencies, but is also a tool for all those wishing to produce and understand governance statistics. It takes stock of existing practices in governance data collection, and proposes guidelines for the improved production and compilation of official governance statistics. It is also a comprehensive resource for monitoring progress on SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

The Handbook is divided in two main parts. The first part addresses cross-cutting issues applicable to all or most dimensions of governance statistics. This part provides an overarching framework with common analytical underpinnings informed by international human rights norms and principles that are applicable to all the dimensions.

The second part of the Handbook provides guidance on eight dimensions of governance: non-discrimination and equality; participation; openness; access to and quality of justice; responsiveness; absence of corruption; trust; and safety and security. For each dimension the Handbook provides a conceptualization of the dimension, a discussion of its relevance, a presentation of data and best practices that currently exist, recommended key indicators (including but not limited to indicators for the SDGs) and a suggested way forward to achieve international statistical standards in the context of the dimension. In brief:

  • Non-discrimination and equality addresses any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference or other differential treatment based on grounds such as color, sex, language, religion, national or social origin, disability or other status that has the intention or effect of nullifying or impairing human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • Participation focuses on the ways in which individuals take part in the conduct of political and public affairs, including by: registering to vote, voting or standing as a candidate in elections; being members of legislative, executive and judicial bodies at all levels of government; accessing positions in the public service; and engaging, individually or as members of political parties and NGOs, in political activities.
  • Openness refers to the extent to which public institutions provide access to information and are transparent in their decision- and policy-making processes; it covers access to information, open government provisions, freedom of expression and media pluralism;
  • Access to and quality of justice is about the ability of people to defend and enforce their rights and obtain just resolution of justiciable problems, if necessary, through impartial formal or informal institutions of justice and with appropriate legal support;
  • Responsiveness focuses on whether people have a say in what government does, and whether they are satisfied with the government’s performance;
  • Absence of corruption refers to intolerance to corruption, the levels and patterns of observable corrupt practices, and the State response to corruption;
  • Trust addresses people’s trust in institutions such as the parliament, the national government and the justice system, as well as trust in other people; and
  • Safety and security focuses on levels and patterns of crime, perceptions of safety, measurement of casualties directly provoked by armed operations, and the quality of law enforcement and criminal justice institutions.

Each chapter outlines a way forward in terms of furthering the methodological development in the respective area with a view to eventually achieving internationally agreed statistical standards.

The purpose of the Handbook is not to promulgate international standards on governance statistics. The development of such standards is a more substantial endeavor that requires extensive pilot-testing and in-depth examination of the validity and reliability of proposed standardized methodologies across time and space, and as such will unfold over a longer time frame. The Praia Group has therefore requested that its mandate be extended for at least another five years to advance this work. However, the Handbook is an important stepping stone towards achieving international statistical standards in all areas of governance statistics.

Given that governance statistics are a work in progress, the Praia Group will monitor accomplishments made on the way forward in each of the eight dimensions above, and update the Handbook as needed to reflect developments in the eventful field of governance statistics.

The authors of this guest article are Celso Ribeiro, Osvaldo Borges and Malene Almeida from the Secretariat of the Praia Group on Governance Statistics, and Alexandra Wilde from the UN Development Programme – Oslo Governance Centre. For more information regarding the work of the Praia Group, please contact:

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