Do We Need Lot of Statistics and Formal Celebrations?

 – Dr Satyajeet Nanda, Senior Programme Officer

The United Nations Statistical Commission declared in 2010 that 20th October be celebrated as ‘World Statistics Day’ every 5 years. The theme for the 2nd anniversary of World Statistics Day (WSD) in 2015 was ‘Better Data, Better Lives’. It is important to have a re-look on the significance of Statistics for society at large. While in a very literal sense the word statistics would mean just the numbers out of measurement of things, the formal meaning of this has a lot of significance for the real users.

The significance of statistics has been presented by various people in different contexts at different times. For instance, on the 2nd anniversary of WSD, the Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, while presenting the importance of statistics in the overall development of human society said, “On this World Statistics Day, I urge all partners and stakeholders to work together to ensure that the necessary investments are made, adequate technical capacities built, new data sources are explored and innovative processes are applied to give all countries the comprehensive information systems they need to achieve sustainable development.”

WSD highlights the importance of reliable as well as timely data for informed decision-making by governments and individuals. It also serves to promote the right to public information and raise awareness for technical investments that can aid in data collection. The importance of timely and reliable data means that nobody is left unaccounted for in order for policy makers to better address and overcome challenges such as education, climate change and social needs.

In many countries there are national statistical bodies at the government or non-government level which celebrates this day on different dates attributing major contributions of statistics and statistical experts. In India, on the birth anniversary of late Prof. Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, the Father of Indian Statistics, June 29, is celebrated as National Statistics Day (NSD) every year to create public awareness about importance of statistics in socio-economic planning and policy formulation. The 2017 theme of India’s National Statistics Day was ‘Administrative Statistics’.

A lot of questions arise on the need and use of statistics in development. One of the advantages of using the statistics is that one can track the trends as well as changes in specific indicators over time to understand the usage pattern. On the flip side, they may not be appropriate in the specific context to be interpreted without proper technical expertise.

There are different kinds of data and statistics in international, national and sub-national level authorities. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provides global and national-level statistics on various sectors such as economic, demographic, energy, accounts, vital statics, composite development (SDG, MDG), big-data, trade, tourism, migration, disability and so on for a comparative trend analysis.

The national-level sources of statistics are mostly developed by government agencies and research organisations. The reliability of these statistics can be examined by researchers before using them yet very few of them are really used in practice by policy makers.

The major challenge lies in technical expertise, availability of time to spend on analysis of these statistics and the non-availability of easy interpretability options. Technology and communication channels are a few options available for analysis.

The data visualisation techniques using graphs, maps, pictures are increasingly being used in most fora. Similarly e-portal based statistics are helping in a big way for contextual analysis of statistics and draw conclusions as per need of the user. These would be of great help towards ‘administrative statistics’. When there are ways to handle statistics towards human welfare, then we have good reasons to celebrate too!

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