Chief Statisticians reaffirm Official statistics as shared foundation of an informed society and bedrock of democracy

Thirty years after UNECE’s adoption of the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, formulated by the Conference of European Statisticians (CES), the same body gathers this week in Geneva to continue its essential and ever-evolving work. Chief statisticians and national statistical offices the world over continue to be guided by the ten principles that define what they do and why they do it.

Today, the most senior national statisticians from 57 countries across and beyond the UNECE region are gathered for their annual plenary session of the Conference of European Statisticians (CES). This is UNECE’s highest statistical decision-making body, in which statistical standards are agreed and adopted and new directions for statistics are pursued. They will share cutting edge new techniques and technologies for gathering data, turning data into meaningful, useful statistics, and ensuring that the statistics reach the people who want them, in the ways that they want and need.

2022 marks 30 years since the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, now a General Assembly-endorsed global standard, were first developed and adopted by UNECE.

“For those of us tasked with guiding and monitoring the progress of countries as they tackle the big challenges of our time-climate change, population ageing, sustainable urbanization, transitioning to a green economy-the value of comprehensive and trustworthy information cannot be overstated. I invite all countries to respect and uphold the Principles, and to strengthen and support official statistics producers to that they are empowered to fulfil the Principles to the maximum extent”, said UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova.

The principles were devised at a time of immense change and upheaval across the region. As centrally-planned economies transitioned to market economies in many member States, statisticians realized more than ever that they needed a shared framework to define the principles that guide what they do. Such a framework helps to secure the trust and credibility upon which effective statistics depend. There are many differences across countries in how their statistical production is organized, what data they gather, what needs they fulfil, yet these central principles are universal.

The principles underlie everything that the producers of official statistics do: from the methods for collecting, processing and storing data to the ways that statistical offices disseminate statistics and communicate with those who use them. The principles ensure independence from political influence and the right and duty to publicly correct misuse or misinterpretation of statistics. They safeguard the trustworthiness of official statistics, enabling them to play a unique role as a public good that underpins sustainable development and democracy. Only when public statistics are available to all citizens, in a way that can be relied upon, believed, accessed equally by all, and understood, can society hold its decision-makers to account. Official statistics, then, are at the very core of modern democracies.

By marking this 30th anniversary, statistical offices across the region are recognizing the continued and increasing importance of the principles in guiding what they do. As the sheer amount of data produced increases everywhere, those who rely on facts to shape their decisions are faced with a vast range of possible sources to which they can turn. At the same time, deliberately misleading uses of data, selective use of figures and incorrect interpretations abound.

With their collective manifesto for serving society with impartial, relevant and accurate information to guide decisions, the community of official statisticians will continue upholding and being led by the Fundamental Principles for 30 more years and beyond.

Advancing cooperation on cutting-edge statistics

They will also debate pressing questions about the future role of data and statistics in the world-asking how national statistical offices, the bodies that produce official public statistics such as GDP and population size, should adapt to the changing demands and challenges of society. People don’t want the burden of completing surveys, and it can sometimes seem like duplicated effort when public authorities and private companies already hold lots of information about us. Why should we go to the trouble of providing it again for the sake of statistics? But society still depends on the statistics-so national statistical offices need to agree on how they can produce accurate and reliable figures using these alternative sources, while still staying on the right side of ethical concerns and privacy worries.

This year’s CES will examine this any many other topics. As always, the Conference will tackle big questions about statistical methodology and agree on many new statistical standards-on topics as diverse as modernizing statistical mapping, subjective poverty, the informal and unobserved economy, statistics on children and youth, emerging forms of employment, and the gendered impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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