Development of statistical capacity in the SDG-era

In this Evaluation view, Irene Tuveng argues that more and better official statistics available on country level gives the potential for increased monitoring and evaluation capacity, but that evaluations must not set the priorities for national statistical systems.
The illustration shows examples of administrative data relevant for the SDGs
This illustration shows examples of administrative data relevant for the SDGs.

Irene Tuveng is the Head of Division for International Development Cooperation in Statistics Norway. 

Good statistics are important for measuring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but more so for each country to be able to make policy decisions that will drive sustainable development. A solid National Statistical System (NSS) well aligned with national development plans and priorities plays a key role in providing the country’s policy makers, citizens and businesses with information vital for making informed choices and formulating evidence-based policies.

Even if the SDG Agenda has increased the support to statistics, there is a risk that higher international demand for data and statistics will divert scarce resources in the statistical office away from the priority of national data users in developing countries. Developing partners focusing mainly on short-term data needs without addressing the systematic problems facing statistical systems in low income countries, may even have a negative long-term impact on the NSS and the possibility for evidence-based national policy.

“In order to have a positive effect and support development of national statistical systems, international development partners, including development evaluators, must work towards the sustainable supply of statistics rather than simply demanding more data for global monitoring and domestic accountability needs. When introducing or updating standard indicators for results reporting, DAC members should demonstrate how they are supporting country systems, linking project results to the SDG targets and indicators prioritised locally and, at a minimum, ensuring that there is no duplication. They should also make efforts to harmonise indicators among providers.” (OECD, 2017)

The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs have highlighted the need to support development of NSSs to reach the SDGs. Today, many developing countries lack even basic statistics. For example, 77 developing countries have inadequate poverty data. Only 56% of countries worldwide have birth registration data that are 90% complete, with just 15% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa having these data, 33% in Southern Asia and 36% in Southeast Asia. Only 37 countries have national statistical legislation that complies with the UN’s Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (OECD, 2017)

A global initiative coming out of the 2030 Agenda; the 2017 Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data, acknowledges that the data challenge will not be met before National Statistical Systems have the required capacity and financial support – a view reinforced in the OECD Development Co-operation Report 2017: Data for Development.

The 2030-agenda aim of “leaving no one behind” adds on to the data challenge in that everyone needs to be counted and requiring data disaggregated at the very least by income, sex and gender, migratory status, geography, age and disability. The Development Co-operation Report 2018, Joining Forces to Leave No One Behind provides more insight into the data challenge related to the goal of leaving no one behind.

Administrative registers are for many countries an untapped resource for improving NSSs and possibility for more disaggregated statistics. At its best, registers can provide updated and detailed data, at regular time intervals, data that cannot easily be produced using household surveys. Today, many countries do not utilize information available in administrative data sources, and even lack basic administrative registers such as comprehensive civil registration and vital statistics system. The Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data points out the need to improve the quality and use of administrative data for statistics.

The main purpose of the international development cooperation offered by SSB is to build capacity in producing official statistics of good quality and to contribute to the development of National Statistical Systems that serve national needs.

More and better use of administrative data in statistics, has for many years been a priority in SSBs development cooperation projects. Depending only on high-cost surveys and censuses for data collection is too expensive and resource demanding and is not sustainable in the long run. Increased use of administrative data can improve coverage and accuracy of the statistics, and at the same time reduce costs significantly.

Norway has extensive experience in development and use of administrative registers for statistical purposes. Our last Population and Housing Census was for instance entirely based on data from various administrative registers. There are three key registers that form the core of registration activities in Norway: The population, business and address registers. In 2017, the three owners of these registers (The Norwegian Tax Authority, the Brønnøysund Register Centre and the Norwegian Mapping Authority) and SSB established a working group which aims at more collaboration on development support to partner countries in improving their core administrative registers, their solutions for sharing and exchanging information and how statistics can be produced using these registers.

Development of NSSs that can deliver more and better statistics with the required level of disaggregation is a demanding task. It will take strong political leadership, greater investment, long-term commitment and more collective action both on the donor- and partner side to succeed. However, for developing countries to be able to deliver effective policies on leaving no one behind and for development actors to be able to evaluate effects of development cooperation initiatives there is no way around investing in development of better National Statistical Systems.

Interested in evaluation views? Javier Fabra-Mata discusses the standard of independence in evaluations in this evaluation view

Published 21.06.2019
Last updated 21.06.2019