The High-Level Forum on Official Statistics convened ahead of the UN Statistical Commission's 48th Session.
Participants addressed the need for cooperation between all members of the international statistical system, improving the compilation, validation and transmission of data for SDG monitoring, national ownership of data, and the need for internationally comparable data.
6 March 2017: Representatives of UN agencies, national statistical offices (NSOs), and civil society addressed the need for cooperation between all members of the international statistical system based on common principles. Gathering for the High-Level Forum on Official Statistics, participants also discussed improving the compilation, validation and transmission of data for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) monitoring, taking into account national ownership of data and the need for internationally comparable data.
The Forum convened on 6 March 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, in advance of the 48th session of the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC). The Forum opened with a keynote address by UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Peter Thomson, who noted that in the 18 months since the adoption of the SDGs and their 169 targets, a revolution in both statistics and data has been taking place across the world. However, he said, the number of small island developing States (SIDS) with a statistical plan has fallen from nine to seven, and many of the most vulnerable populations, including rural women, Indigenous peoples, people living in slums, and people affected by conflict, are consistently left out of data sets.
To the challenge of monitoring the SDGs, Thomson called for: supporting the work of UN statisticians who develop the global indicator framework and collect, analyze and disaggregate “an unparalleled amount of global data”; scaling up capacity-building efforts for national and regional statistical organizations; establishing stronger and broader multi-stakeholder partnerships to leverage comparative advantages in data collection and statistical analysis; providing dedicated funding to ensure that vulnerable, marginalized and under-counted groups are not left behind; and building capacity to access and use big data for official statistics.
In a session on the role of the global statistical system in reporting on progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Dieter Sarreither, President, Federal Statistical Office of Germany, said global monitoring of the SDGs should not be seen as a competition between countries, but as a collaborative effort. He noted that in July 2016 Germany published data on 110 SDG indicators applicable to its national circumstances.
Aboubacar Sedikh Beye, Director General, National Agency of Statistics and Demography of Senegal, noted his country’s capacity challenges related to data production, and stressed the need for international support for NSO capacity building. Pietro Gennari, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), highlighted the role of international organizations in data collection, dissemination and comparability. He called for ensuring that countries receive only one data request, by using existing reporting mechanisms as much as possible, and joint questionnaires.
The OECD invited collaboration to address data gaps, making non-official sources unnecessary.
Martine Durand, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), described the global SDG indicator framework as a “GPS to measure progress, provide accountability and direct actions.” She urged constructive dialogue between NSOs and international organizations, and that they collaborate to develop standards. Noting tensions that appear between countries and international organizations when the latter use non-official sources of data, she invited collaboration for addressing data gaps, to make non-official sources unnecessary.
The second session focused on issues in transmitting data from the national to the global level. Julio Santaella, President, National Institute of Statistics and Demography of Mexico, highlighted “orphan” indicators, underlining the need to clearly designate responsibility between international organizations and NSOs with regard to their coverage. Nancy Potok, US Chief Statistician, said meeting the statistical requirements for the SDGs over the next 14 years is a “real challenge” for the US, adding that no country or agency has encountered such a complicated reporting challenge before.
Oliver Chinganya, UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), said coordination is “the biggest problem, as no one wants to be coordinated.” He also cited the lack of a platform to track how often data is produced, as another important challenge. Atilla Hancioglu, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), identified other challenges: uncoordinated work on indicators at the country level, resulting in unharmonized data; and parallel reporting by regional and international agencies, which creates reporting burdens for NSOs.
Noting that biodiversity indicators comprise only 3% of the SDG indicators, David O’Connor, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said IUCN is supporting countries and regional and international agencies by providing standards, guidance and training. He underlined the importance of engaging civil society in data generation.
In the ensuing discussion, participants raised issues related to: enhancing coordination and communication between the national, regional and global reporting levels; data transparency; and the importance of regional mechanisms for monitoring SDG implementation. Closing the Forum, moderator Francesca Perucci, UN Statistics Division, said a summary of discussions will be issued during the UN Statistical Commission.