[National Statistical Offices] will need to change, and more quickly than in the past, and continue to adapt, abandoning expensive and cumbersome production processes, incorporating new data sources, including administrative data from other government departments, and focusing on providing data that is human and machine-readable, compatible with geospatial information systems and available quickly enough to ensure that the data cycle matches the decision cycle. In many cases, technical and financial investments will be needed to enable those changes to happen, and strong collaboration between public institutions and the private sector can help official agencies to jump straight to new technologies and ways of doing things.
A World That Counts, p.9
Demand and Opportunities
The landmark report by the Independent Expert Advisory Group to the United Nations Secretary General — A World That Counts: Mobilizing the data revolution for sustainable development — spotlights the increasing demands and opportunities for national statistical systems.
On the demand side, the need to produce high-quality relevant data in support of the new post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) stands out. Among the opportunities, the need for the national statistical offices to involve and serve not only traditional, but diverse new producers and users of data means adopting both open data standards and smart new ways of conducting business.
But, how can official statistics both retain high technical standards and achieve sustainable open data practices? Implementing a modern, open statistical system will require legal reforms, investments in statistical and physical infrastructure, bolstering human resources and assuring other practical inputs.
To secure the financing for these developments, skillful planning and prioritization will be essential. National Strategies for the Development of Statistics (NSDS) are the backbone of such planning, as well as the framework for effectively leveraging national and international investments and the long experience of national statistical offices in NSDS implementation.
Guidelines for NSDS as such are not new. The World Bank developed the first framework for strategic planning of developmental statistics in 2003. “Guidelines for Preparing a Statistical Master Plan (SMP)” was used in many countries. It was an obligatory document for any project financed from the lending program STATCAP. In 2004 PARIS21 developed “A Guide to Designing a National Strategy for Development of Statistics (NSDS).” Since 2004, about 100 countries have employed an NSDS as a tool to identify needs and prioritize their efforts to develop a more robust statistical system. These plans have typically covered four- or five-year periods and have become a key tool for mobilizing domestic and donor resources. In 2013, PARIS21 updated the guidelines bringing in new developments and incorporating the experience of many countries about the NSDS drafting process.
As ODW’s contribution to modernizing NSDS Guidelines, our goal is to recommend well-thought and tested modifications that would provide a better path to open data, while also meeting the challenge of increasing demand specifically related to the Sustainable Development Goals. In doing so, we want to build on opportunities for modernizing statistics, such as those offered by new technologies, private sector partnerships, and other potential components. In particular, we will work with PARIS21’s current guidelines for NSDS, which are continuously updated with, for example, new sections on “specific issues” being added to the website on topics such as openness, gender statistics, fragile states, regional strategies, and the post-2015 agenda.
Customizing NSDSs to country context is a key consideration for our work going forward. With an expanding list of guidelines at the international level, it is important to watch and take stock of how these guidelines are and must be adapted to the country context. Countries identify which components are most pertinent to their particular needs and develop an NSDS as elaborate as needed for planning and resource mobilization, but, without certain key features, they will not gain the benefits of openness or the data revolution.
Our preliminary review of NSDSs suggests gaps in existing NSDSs. For example, some NSDSs do not discuss the legal framework in which a statistical system is operating and the changes needed for openness. Some are not results-oriented with an M&E system built-in to allow for monitoring implementation. Some NSDSs fail to provide a detailed budget, identifying sources of financing and types of expenditures, for the life of the NSDS. Others do not discuss or assess the absorptive capacity of the internal and external systems involved.
ODW and Open NSDS
Overall, our study of existing NSDSs is looking for practical, specific ways to modernize the NSDS planning process in order to respond to the increasing demand for data and to take full advantage of new opportunities. The study results will describe a broad range of opportunities for the development of an NSDS that is fully open and in line with the principles of the data revolution. Our ultimate goal is to provide a fully tested set of guidance notes and tools for an Open NSDS, where openness and the core elements of the data revolution will be incorporated throughout the NSDS, not as addendums or afterthoughts.
This is an important item in ODW’s core work program. Regular updates will follow.