Date of Meeting: 29 Feb 2016

Meeting Organizer: Statistical Commission

ISJC Staff Present: Luke Cozens

Reporter: Luke Cozens

Which SDG does this topic cover? All 17

Type of meeting: Briefing

Brief summary of presentation of information made

The briefing was given by Mr. Stefan Schweinfest Director of the UN Statistical Division

Introduction to the Statistical Commission

  • The statistical commission has an annual meeting of national chief statisticians which has been going for over 70 years. (See web links for more information, 8th-10th March in 2016)
  • A civil society briefing by the Statistical Commission is new, there has previously only been one for member states.
  • The commission sets international standards for statistics in order to give “comparable data” between countries, which also allows for experience and capacity sharing between national statistics offices.
  • The statistical commissions remit has been significantly expanded with the introduction of the SDGs, including work on refugee statistics.

Discussion of the statistical indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals

Limits of the indicators

  • The statistical commission was asked to create a set of indicators to help keep track of work on the Sustainable Development Goals. Some initial proposals have been published which have often been criticized by civil society. Mr. Schweinfest offered some context to explain the limitations of the indicators, noting that they are not perfect.
  • The statistical commission was given nine months to create the indicators whereas they usually work in 3-10 year periods. Many statisticians noted that this would prevent them from achieving their own quality standards.
  • There is a very high number [169] of targets to find indicators for and there was no extra provision of staff. Even “developed” countries are expressing capacity difficulties.
  • All indicators need to be able to take data from all 193 member states with an agreed methodology. Mr. Schweinfest noted that many seemingly good suggested indicators were not able to meet this requirement.
  • There was great interest from civil society in data-disaggregation so that work for specific groups (e.g. those with disabilities, refugees) could be monitored and no one would be “left behind”. However, data-disaggregation is very expensive and often beyond the budgets of national statistical offices. Additionally, increased disaggregation increases the length of questionnaires and thus decreases response rates and therefore decreases the quality of data.

Explanation of the Global Framework

  • The indicators constitute a global framework for monitoring the SDGs which will primarily feed in to an annual report to the UN General Assembly.
  • As such the framework will not identify the work of individual countries although it may identify regions of the world which are falling behind.
  • The framework will be modified to fit each national context in order to achieve useful national statistics. It is expected that no country will exactly follow the global framework in their national monitoring.

Capacity Building                                  

  • The statistical commission appealed to civil society to ask member states to build in space for review and refinement of the indicators, while allowing an immediate start to data collection.
  • This is a common practice for statisticians and allows the commission to begin building capacity of nations first and then introduce high quality indicators which would not have been possible with previous capacities. We don’t know what new statistical methods will be available in 2026!
  • It also means that collection of data can begin immediately and not leave countries with an “excuse” not to start work on the SDGs.
  • There is to be a UN World Data Forum to provide a broad debate on how to work to together to satisfy the information points of the 2030 agenda.
  • It is possible that once work has begun certain indicators will show a high-level of correlation allowing one to be dropped and predicted from the other.

Key Information after Questions from the Floor

  • All adaptations to the indicator framework are ultimately in the hands of the General Assembly.
  • There are other unofficial data sources which often compete with the statistics commission. These sources are often useful in the short term, particularly in emergency situations, but the statistical commission aims to provide high quality data that is consistent over long periods of time and which covers all countries. It is key to use the right type of data for the right purpose. Official data is good for long term strategy, unofficial data can be better for immediate decisions. Unofficial data may also help with disaggregation.
  • The current indicators are sorted into three tiers: Teir 1 are indicators for which the commission already has some data, Teir 2 are indicators which have an establiched methodology, Teir 3 are indicators whose definitions are still under discussion.
  • There is room for national statisticians to become quality advisors for data that they have not produced themselves. This could help improve capacity.

What was of particular significance to share with The Salvation Army globally?

  • The statistical indicators are the things within the SDGs that will be measured. It is important that they capture the vision of the SDGs as things that are not measured are more likely to be ignored.

  • Any problems with the indicators will need to be dealt with by the General Assembly – the statistical commission cannot make any changes without a mandate by them.

  • National statistics will not be defined by the global framework. National advocates will need to push for good national statistics independently of the UN discussions.

  • The statistical commission has appealed to civil society (of which The Salvation Army is considered part) to ask the General Assembly to give them space to review the indicators, they say this will allow for much better data overall.

  • Unofficial data sources will be important in combination with the official statistics. The Salvation Army may need to produce or use such data.

Web links for more information

Statistical Commission:

Tags: SDG16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, SDG8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG14: Life Below Water, SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG3: Good Health and Well-Being, SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production, SDG15: Life on Land, United Nations, SDG10: Reduced Inequalities, SDG1: No Poverty, SDG4: Quality Education, SDG5: Gender Equality, SDG9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, SDG13: Climate Action, SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals, SDG2: Zero Hunger