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Statisticians are preparing to measure the Sustainable Development Goals

Statistical offices have to respond to a growing demand for more detailed and timelier statistics from all sectors of society. The statistical community also needs to prepare to measure the ambitious post-2015 development agenda and the high number of indicators that will be contained in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These were part of the challenges discussed by a group of Chief Statisticians, which compose the Bureau of the Conference of European Statisticians, at their meeting in Geneva on 17-18 February.

The Chief Statisticians decided on further work in three emerging areas: labour mobility and globalisation, improving population projections and providing data on extreme events or disasters.

The meeting also reviewed new statistical guides, developed jointly with countries and international organisations, to recommend common solutions for measuring global production, improve statistical business registers, provide better data on the socio-economic conditions of migrants and carry out population and housing censuses using innovative methods.

Discussions were also devoted to preparing the plenary session of the Conference of European Statisticians that will be held on 15-17 June 2015, in Geneva to discuss:

How to measure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A high-level seminar on 15 June will discuss how to deal with this major challenge that calls for significant investment in official statistics, also in statistically advanced countries.

Ways to modernise statistical production and manage efficiencies. A second high-level seminar, on 16 June, will assess which concrete actions are needed to realise efficiencies and enable taking up the huge task of measuring the SDGs.

In these seminars, the Chief Statisticians will discuss the changing role of official statistics in informing societies. 

As data are everywhere for people to use, statisticians are asked more often why we even need official statistics? Couldn’t we do a population census based on tweets or measure GDP using e-shopping statistics? The question is, however, who ensures the accuracy, objectivity and quality of these data? Who decides which methodology to use? What if the data picked up by someone are misleading, get interpreted wrong or lead to harmful decisions?

Ignoring quality would make data useless. Official statistics are designed to enable trustworthy public policies based on objective and unbiased information that are compiled according to internationally developed and agreed methodologies.

The Conference  will also look into concrete examples of changing the way statistics are produced for example by using new data sources, including Big Data.