Training Statisticians in Asia and the Pacific, 2 & 3

2.0.      Core Business

The mandate of SIAP calls for practically oriented training of official statisticians as a means to strengthen the capability, including that of training, of national statistical organizations to produce statistics responding to socio-economic development planning.Official statistics is not a university discipline but cuts across and borrows from several university disciplines, including Statistical science, Sociology, Economics and Computer science or Informatics.[1]  However even considering that the statistics produced by official institutions are the bases for decisions which affect the society and economy of a country, few universities still offer courses incorporating official statistics in their economics curriculum.  In-depth treatment of official statistics generally has yet to be included in the curricula of universities so that there is the real need for institutions like SIAP to fill this gap through its practically oriented training.

2.1.      Census and Survey Methodology and Practice

Clearly its mandate relates to official statistics; it should and does build its core competence on this.  This includes its collection, compilation, processing, analysis and dissemination. The actual practice of conducting a survey and all its phases (from planning to execution to processing to estimation to analysis to dissemination) is the core knowledge that SIAP intends its participants to learn.  It employs the framework of total survey error, principally its control, as the various phases are presented.  Why do you consult users on their needs and get their cooperation?  How do the design of a questionnaire and the wording of questions impact on the quality of the results?  How is the efficiency of a stratified sample compared to that of a systematic sample?  Rather than tackle these questions in fragments, relating them in the broader context of reducing total survey error is an effective way of integrating the various separate elements into a whole.

2.2.      Bridging the Gap between Official Statistics and the Social Sciences

Additionally training programmes have to bridge or connect the link between practical training and formal education, between official statistics and graduate economics. 

  • Have the recent developments in the consumer price index moved it closer to what it has been supposed to represent in the first place, – cost-of-living?   The Laspeyre’s price index assumes that one goes to the market with a fixed basket of goods to find out how much it costs now.  Actually the housewife goes to the market with a budget and seeks out what the money can buy according to her needs and preferences.  Is the renewed effort to revive interest and work in the International Comparison Project which seeks to generate country and regional Purchasing Power Parities aligned in the direction of comparing market baskets of goods and services or comparing expenditure patterns? 
  • Is it clearer now that the establishment surveys had been designed to show the economics of the firm and to provide an empirical estimate of its use of labor and capital?  Or is the concern for rationalization and improvement towards facilitating responses of firms which already experience heavy response burdens from government and other data reporting systems, including surveys?
  • Is the system of national accounts (SNA) presented as connected to Keynesian theory?[2]  Has the distinction been made that the National Accounts deals with records of economic activity while Macroeconomics aims to provide the analytical tools which allow the explanation of the results shown in the accounts? While the input-output (matrix) table allows for the study of technical relations among the economic sectors, is it also depicted as a portrayal of an economy were in a state of general equilibrium and can fit in as a convenient econometric (Leontief’s) model structure?
  • The added flexibility of the SNA now allows examination of social and other statistics such as the indicators on delivery of health services and access from the point of view of economics and is referred to as the ‘health accounts’.  Moreover, a recommended methodological framework for a tourism satellite account has been issued by the World Tourism Organization, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Eurostat and the United Nations.  The account offers policy makers an overview of tourism in relation to other economic sectors, and enables comparisons to be drawn between the tourism industry and other industries in terms of jobs, capital investment, tax revenues, and balance of payments.
  • The existence of the informal sector has been caused by the inability of the agricultural and industrial sectors in most developing countries to provide adequate employment or income earning opportunities to a growing labour force.   Many of its activities are carried out without fixed location or in places not readily visible to regulatory authorities, such as small shops, home-based units, and stalls.  Thus it requires a study of activities of firms and households in tandem, making it necessary to conduct inquiries or surveys of establishments and households and thereby diluting the distinction of mutually exclusive statistical domains of economic agents.  The activities are generally done at home, raising the importance of studies on home-based work, women’s participation rates in the labour force, and time-use analysis.
  • In rural areas, small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) include farms.  Moreover off-farm SMEs keep agricultural workers occupied gainfully outside of planting and harvesting time.  It is thus important to cover their operations even if these are difficult to identify in a listing operation.  Otherwise estimates of income and expenses of rural households would be undercovered and the picture of poverty may be overblown.  Or on the other hand a potent mechanism to address poverty may be lost due to poor coverage.  
  • Poverty tends to occur in greater frequency in the rural areas and in the sectors of agriculture, fishery and forestry.  Underemployment is also typical of the labour force situation in the countryside.  Government statisticians are aware that these are areas that have traditionally been difficult to cover in terms of terrain, economic activities, and modes of production and exchange.  The households in the rural areas have lifestyles quite different from those in the towns and cities and questionnaires may not have been designed adequately to capture these differences.  However monitoring these sectors adequately is imperative to obtain a good picture of key indicators such as inflation, of which food accounts for nearly half of the weight of the inflation rate, and poverty, the methodology of which usually begins with establishing a food threshold.

These are some of the emerging challenges to bridge official statistics to economic thought and policy and enrich the training and education of officers working in national statistical and related offices in the ESCAP region.

2.3.      Frameworks for Training in Official Statistics

Results arising from these statistical processes can lose relevance if these are not linked or subjected to any further analysis and interpretation according to some framework.  Several frameworks of analysis have been used, although rather loosely.  The most frequently cited is the framework for economic statistics.  These are statistics used for measurement of economic activity; used to describe the structure of the economy, and reflect the change in relative importance, with growth, of each sector of economic activity; to show labour input in relation to production; on variables that influence dynamism of the economy; that serve as early warning indicators of problems that could surface in the economy; to indicate the degree to which the economy is integrated to the rest of the world; on availability of living essentials and other items of regular consumption by the society; and on the role of the government in the economy, the size of government operations, and the policy priorities of government.  In the mid-60s there was a compelling need by governments and international organizations on measuring progress achieved in the social aspects of development in a systematic manner as it became clear that increase in per capita incomes as a consequence of economic growth was not enough and that the impact of other relevant considerations on individual well-being and the quality of life also mattered.  The framework of analysis for social statistics arose from these considerations.  Briefly the major social indicators are in the areas of education and literacy, health and nutrition, environment, income and wealth disparities, gender differentials, ethnic, religious and caste disparities, and regional disparities.  The list now includes governance and political participation.  In the nineties, further specialization and global circumstances have created separate analytical frameworks for demographic statistics as ageing, migration and related development concerns emerged as issues that have and will be addressed by governments in the decades to come.  Indicators on environment have also come to the fore with the threats of the depletion of the ozone layer, climate change or the greenhouse effect, and acid rain (acidic gases reacting with the atmosphere) precursors.  The pressure for environmental statistics has already resulted in the development of a satellite account for energy and environment statistics in the system of national accounts (SNA).   SIAP seeks to undertake training on the system of official statistics under these underlying frameworks in order to be consistent and coherent with its mission.  Necessarily the learning exchange materializes not only under a multidisciplinary approach but also a multi-cultural setting .

3.0.      SIAP as a subsidiary body of ESCAP

After existing for a quarter of a century as a project supported by the UNDP, SIAP was accorded legal status as a subsidiary body of the ESCAP on 1 April 1995 through Commission Resolution 51/1.  This did not entail a change in focus but rather formalized the scope, coverage and convergence of the activities of SIAP to the thrusts of the Commission headquarters.  The ESCAP region is made up of a very heterogeneous group of some 52 members and 9 associate members, most of which are developing countries.  The membership represents over 60 percent of the world’s population, or 3.5 billion people.  There are the economies in transition, such as those of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Pacific Island developing countries, as well as South Asia and East Asia.  Four non-regional developed countries are members of ESCAP: the United States of America, France, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Netherlands. A great differentiation exists among them in the level of statistical development.  For many of the countries the statistical systems remain inadequate and large gaps in basic official statistics are prevalent.  Many of the small national statistical offices also face severe budgetary constraints.  There are other problems such as the concerns on the timeliness, reliability and transparency of data that are available.  Since governments will continue to be responsible for the production of statistics for social and economic planning and policy formulation, the national statistical offices will continue to shoulder the important task of improving the national statistical systems.  However recent economic events in the region and the globe augur of less than favorable signals for NSOs to receive additional significant resources from their governments for improved capacities and capabilities.  The economic progress in the region in the first half of the first decade of the millennium also needs to be seen against the background of achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs) in the areas of poverty eradication, universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women, reduction of child mortality and improvement of maternal health.  However this would require in-depth situational analysis and the preparation of the necessary policy strategies.[3] In this regard, indicator sets have been formulated for the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and the United Nations Millennium Declaration.  The national statistical organizations (NSOs) are being challenged to measure up to these demands in accordance with financial, manpower and knowledge resources available to them.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)[4]

As part of the preparation of the Road Map report on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, consultations were held among members of the United Nations Secretariat and representatives of the IMF, OECD and the World Bank in order to harmonize reporting on the development goals in the Millennium Declaration and the International Development Goals. The group discussed the respective targets and selected relevant indicators with a view to developing a comprehensive set of indicators for the MDGs.  The list of MDGs does not undercut in any way agreements on other goals and targets reached at the global conferences of the 1990s.  The eight goals represent a partnership between the developed countries and the developing countries determined, as the Declaration states, “to create an environment – at the national and global levels alike – which is conducive to development and the elimination of poverty.”  Recognizing that quantitative monitoring of progress is easier for some targets than for others and that good quality data for some of the indicators are simply not (yet) available for many countries, the need to assist in building national capacity is underscored while engaging in further discussion (as in the process mandated by the Economic and Social Council [ECOSOC]) with national statistical experts.  8 goals, 18 targets and 40+ indicators were formulated.  Other selected indicators for development, not related to specific targets, include population, total fertility rate, life expectancy at birth, adult literacy rate, and gross national income per capita.  Where relevant, the indicators should be calculated for sub-national levels — urban and rural areas, regions, socio-economic groups, and by age and gender.  The United Nations will report on progress towards the MDGs at the global and country levels. Reporting will be based on the use of PRSPs, United Nations common country assessments, and NHDRs in order to harmonize reporting on the development goals in the Millennium Declaration and the international development goals, and to ensure a common assessment and understanding of the status of the MDGs at both the global and national levels.

Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP)

In December 1999 the Boards of the WB and IMF approved the PRSP approach to reducing poverty in low-income countries.  The country-authored PRSPs are results-oriented, comprehensive, long-term road maps that are designed to serve as a framework for domestic policies and programs as well as development assistance.  The preparation of PRSPs helps countries to make progress toward acquiring better poverty data and undertaking diagnostics.  It also helps to clarify national targets and indicators for poverty reduction and to increase attention to monitoring and evaluation.  Building on these and debates about policy options, PRSPs set out a country’s macroeconomic and fiscal priorities, aw well as ongoing proposed policies to improve governance and sectoral programs.  Countries are challenged to offer the appropriate level of detail about public actions, such as which institution is expected to accomplish what specific outcome in an identified time frame.  Moreover the adoption of PRSPs intends to improve on public expenditure management, donor alignment and harmonization, and its integration into previously established government planning exercises.[5]

National Human Development Report (NHDR)

Since its first publication in 1990, the Human Development Report has motivated countries in different parts of the world to prepare and publish their own National Human Development Report. From the first national report published in Bangladesh in 1992, the number of NHDRs has grown dramatically. Today more than 450 national and regional reports have been prepared.    By presenting arrays of statistics, indicators and indices of education and literacy, health and nutrition, incomes for accessing goods and services, and related economic, social and physical statistics; analyzing these in terms of the betterment of the human condition; and pointing out achievements and failings in the field of human development, these reports have created an awareness in their national communities of the importance of improving overall human welfare. They have given rise to lively debates on human development issues at various levels.  In most countries these debates have resulted in consensus, in some near agreements, and in still other continuing discussions.It is noted that the need for some additional statistics from these indicator sets comes at a time when NSOs barely operate with just maintaining the same level of resources as in the previous years while facing the scenario that these may be reduced.  The NSOs are thus faced with the challenge of delivering ‘more for the same or more for less’, – to be more efficient in the use of resources and results and to be more effective in terms of relevance and credibility.   SIAP is no exception to this either.


[1] Erkki Pahkoinen and Risto Lehtonen, Master’s Program in Statistics as Platform for Co-operation between University and Official Statistics.  University of Jyvaskyla Department of Mathematics and Statistics, P.O. Box 35, FIN-40351 Jyvaskyla, Finland. 

[2] Carmen Feijo, An Approach to the Teaching of Social Accounts in the Brazilian University Curricula.  Brazilian Statistical Office, R.Timoteo da Costa, 1033-bloco 1-201, Rio de Janeiro, RJ 22 450-130 Brazil.  Paper presented during the ISI Session in Seoul, Korea, August 2001.

[3] Based on the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific. 

[4] Meeting material.  PARIS21 (Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century) Annual Consortium Meeting, 4 and 5 October 2001, Paris, France.

[5] International Development Association and International Monetary Fund, “Good Practices for PRSP Design and Implementation: A Summary for Practitioners”. <http://www.worldbank.org/poverty/strategies/review/index.htm>

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