System Agility and data stewardship in the era of COVID-19
The OECS Commission and partners for statistics discuss support to national statistics offices in the OECS region
Tuesday, May 26, 2020 — The OECS Commission hosted and facilitated a meeting with development partners for statistics on the impact of COVID-19 on the OECS Regional Statistical System (RSS).
The meeting was convened virtually on Monday 12 May 2020 as a follow up to a meeting held on 22 and 23 April, 2020 with the national statistical offices (NSOs) to discuss the impact of the pandemic on their business operations; to identify lessons learnt and to signal the type of support that would be required in the immediate to long-term.
The meeting with development partners was held under the theme Leveraging the Opportunities from a Crisis to Accelerate the Transformative Agenda for Data and Official Statistics and assembled 22 partners for a conversation on the impact of COVID-19 on NSOs in small island developing states (SIDS).
The main objectives were to:
- assess the impact of COVID-19 on the NSOs’ current and future operations;
- discuss the lessons learnt and why and how they should be put into practice;
- take stock of the availability of global resources to support statistical development; and
- identify the best way forward to support the OECS region in the immediate, medium and long-term.
Dr. Gale Archibald, Head of the Statistical Services Unit, acknowledging the disruption to the data ecosystem and the urgency for NSOs to respond and reengineer operations to be relevant, flexible and agile, ahead of the next debilitating event stated:
“Get ahead we must, because another blow will take us to our knees and the recovery will be longer and harder. If there is no quantitative evidence, we cannot inform policies and plans, or assess the impacts to get the resources that are necessary to save us.”
“COVID-19 has served us an unintended debilitating blow, where it hurts the most – in tourism and agriculture – two sectors where data availability is poor,” she added.
The meeting received an update on the OECS Regional Strategy for the Development of Statistics (RSDS) achievements from 2016 to 2019 with the support of several of the partners who were attending the meeting. It covered support to Member States to improve production and dissemination of selected social and economic data; and for cross-cutting themes such as using GIS tools and services; statistical advocacy; transitioning to computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI); and management and leadership training for NSO heads.
Dr Archibald acknowledged though achievements were small and incremental, statistical development in the OECS RSS was moving in the right direction. She cautioned that the region should make haste to prevent circumstances from eroding the successes made to date.
Her message to the global statistical community is that the OECS RSS is preparing to leverage the opportunities presented by COVID-19 at a time when the resources are limited. Dr Archibald called for support to NSOs in SIDS to be tailored, targeted and timely.
Statchel Edwards, Chief Statistician in Antigua and Barbuda represented the NSOs in the OECS regional statistical system and described to the meeting the ways in which COVID-19 impacted the NSOs – compounding a data situation that was already weak structurally, institutionally and technically.
Business surveys had to be cancelled, since the entities providing these data were closed, due to protocols established to alleviate the spread of COVID-19. Budgets for household surveys were redirected to programmes to manage COVID-19; stimulate the economy and save jobs.
Among the lessons learnt, Mr. Edwards stated “NSOs must be agile, flexible and responsive to the needs of users, and be able to adapt”. He also stated that the “NSOs’ status must be elevated” to be accorded their rightful role in the NSS. He emphasised “coordination is indispensable” in the NSS, and that the NSOs also saw the need to embrace technology to find alternative ways of collecting official statistics.
In response to the opportunities that have presented themselves to the NSOs, the development partners described current initiatives for social and economic data; implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs); modernising NSOs with GIS technology and services; and expressed their willingness to build on existing synergies and coordination to collaborate with the OECS Commission to support NSOs’ business continuity in the short-term and for statistical development over the long-term.
Ralf Becker from UNSD, described how the Cape Town Global Action Plan (CTGAP) can be a referenced framework for discussion and planning to support countries to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). He also explained that modifications to initiatives are inevitable to support countries’ response to the impact of COVID-19 on their respective national statistical system (NSS); and countries are also expected to adjust their SDG plans and roadmaps accordingly.
Support to countries is expected to be country- and/or regionally-led. The impending CTGAP implementation plan is expected to strengthen the NSS so that it can be responsive to the data needs for the 2030 Agenda and beyond.
Julia Schmidt described how the PARIS21 COVID-19 response was initiated with an examination of the impact of COVID-19 on the statistical value chain. NSOs observed there was a demand and supply shock, particularly in the NSS in SIDS. New and increased demand for data from policy makers and a supply shortage caused by lock down and containment measures that constrained NSO operations disrupted the value chain with delays and diminished data quality.
In committing PARIS21’s support to their partner countries, Ms Schmidt explained there is a path where strategies can be designed to leverage the opportunities, and in particular re-prioritising data collection sets and formulating a national strategy for the development of statistics; proactively communicating with citizens, academia, private sector and policy makers; and NSOs emerging as data advisors to the government.
PARIS21’s Capacity Development 4.0 offers three broad guidelines that are immediately applicable to the NSOs in a COVID-19: incorporating new data sources with the traditional; transitioning to a service-oriented data delivery model; to also focus on management and leadership skills.
The meeting acknowledged that the most important data source affected by the pandemic is the population and housing census (PHC). Seth Broekman from UNFPA acknowledged that COVID-19 exposed opportunities to strengthen PHC preparedness in some countries and to mobilise resources and technical assistance for conducting the PHC in 2021. The meeting was reminded of the impending hurricane seasons and the imperative for data preparedness and resilience.
Dindial Ramrattan, Statistician at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), encouraged OECS countries to examine their budgets and reach out to the CDB for support. The World Bank also stands ready to support OECS NSOs to exploit opportunities presented by COVID-19.
Going forward, a team of partners will work with the SSU to prepare a multi-donor programme of support for NSOs in the OECS RSS. International frameworks such as the Cape Town Global Action Plan and the Capacity for Development 4.0 will be used to structure the programme while remaining aligned with the OECS RSDS.
OECS Member States would be encouraged to build up the enabling environment for statistics by crafting a national strategy for the development of statistics; setting up a national governance arrangement to coordinate and oversee statistical development; modernising statistical legislation; and creating durable and mutually beneficial public-private partnerships to fill data gaps by exploring big data and open data.
The meeting was attended by ECCB, ECTEL – two institutions of the OECS, and eighteen development partners - CDB, DFID, ESRI, Eurostat, Global Fund for Sustainable Development Data, ILO, IMF-CARTAC, PARIS21, Statistics Canada, UNDESA-UNSD, UNDP, UNECE, UNECLAC, UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNFPA, World Bank, Antigua and Barbuda Statistics Division, and the staff of the OECS Commission’s Statistical Services Unit. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Gale Archibald.