26.02.2016 | Global Policy Watch

What can we expect from the 47th Session of the UN Statistical Commission?


By Sarah Dayringer

On 8-11 March 2016, the 47th Session of the United Nations Statistical Commission will be held at the UN Headquarters in New York. A major item on their agenda will be the consideration of the global SDGs indicator framework, by which to measure progress on achieving the 169 far-reaching SDGs targets generated by the Interagency and Expert Group on SDGs (IAEG-SDGs). After several rounds of consultation led by IAEG-SDGs co-chairs Enrique Ordaz (Mexico) and Lisa Bersales (Philippines), 231 indicators have now been agreed upon by the IAEG-SDGs. John Pullinger, Chair of the United Nations Statistical Commission, said that the Commission’s overarching commitment is to make sure “countries have the information they need to ensure that by 2030 no one individual, region or country is left behind.”

Although the agreed indicator framework is provisional, it is expected that the UN Statistical Commission will adopt it, thereby sending it back to the Member States for political consideration and adoption by ECOSOC and the UN General Assembly and submitted for follow-up and review at the High Level Political Forum in July 2016.

Throughout the consultation process Member States were encouraged to reach out to their national statistical offices and experts for comments and suggestions in preparation for the 47th session in March. CSOs, academia and the private sector were encouraged to communicate to their constituencies and governments to ensure that leaders and chief statisticians at national and sub-national levels engage with their representatives on the UN Statistical Commission.

In preparation for the 47th session of the UN Statistical Commission there have been a number of briefings and progress reports. Highlights from the latest IAEG-SDGs report include:

  1. Following consultations with Civil Society Organizations, over 600 submissions were carefully reviewed by the IAEG-SDGs and a summary posted on the IAEG-SDGs website. CSOs expressed the concern that their proposals did not appear to be sufficiently taken into account and requested the deadline for submitting the framework to the UN Statistical Commission be extended from March 2016 until August 2016 (publicly available as an open letter).
  2. The IAEG-SDGs was tasked to develop global indicators, on which all countries are expected to report. At the national level, countries should review the global framework and decide which indicators are most relevant and encouraged to include additional indicators with specific relevance to the national plans and country contexts.
  3. Disaggregated data is essential to capture progress by different groups in the population and live up to the overarching principle of ‘no one left behind’. As Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the Statistics Division, explained: “that makes every indicator a family of indicators, which presents a challenge difficult and costly to obtain.”
  4. Capacity building is therefore essential in order to enable countries to collect, analyse and report on the indicators. As Mr. Schweinfest stated:

simply having a list of indicators does not imply we have all the necessary information available,. on the contrary, it will be a steep challenge for all statistical agencies, not only in developing countries but in developed countries. Thus, we need to move to implementation of a capacity building program.

In the process of finalizing the framework, indicators for which there had previously been no consensus or required further development have been accepted or revised by the IAEG-SDGs. This entailed adding some, deleting others, adding specificity where possible, deleting where not. In addition, several indicators have been flagged as relating to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Flagged indicators are intended to be place holders until an open-ended intergovernmental expert working group establishes indicators to measure global progress in the implementation of the Sendai Framework.

Following the adoption of the global indicator framework, the IAEG-SDGs will classify indicators in three tiers, as follows:

  • Tier 1: the indicators for which there are existing data and methodologies or “legacy indicators from MDG work;”
  • Tier 2: indicators for which methodologies are established but data is not yet readily available;  
  • Tier 3: indicators for which no methodology has been created.

Since the framework is designed to continue to improve as the technology landscape changes over the next 15 years, the IAEG-SDGs will focus on developing Tier 3 indicators, issuing further guidance on data disaggregation and examining interlinkages between targets and goals and the possibility of identifying some multi-purpose indicators.

The High-Level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Post-2015 monitoring will advise the Statistical Commission on how to best follow-up on the recommendations on the Data Revolution. Set up by the Statistical Commission to promote national ownership of the post-2015 monitoring system and foster statistical capacity building, partnership and coordination, it is made up of chief statisticians from 22 countries.

The High Level Group is to determine what information can be useful for which part of the agenda. It will convene the UN World Data Forum where all stakeholders—governments, CSOs and the private sector as well as the UN Statistical Commission’s Big Data Global Working Group—will look at how to link data monitoring efforts.

After the most recent technical briefing on the global indicators framework challenging questions arose:

  • How are indicators classified into these tiers (by which methodology and data measurements)?
  • What determines an indicator’s direct relevance to the targets they are measuring?
  • In what way are qualitative measurements being addressed in the framework?
  • Will the adoption of the global indicators framework during the upcoming UN Statistical Commission leave adequate room for elaboration and adjustments?

Francesca Perucci, Chief of the UND Statistical Services Branch explained that the tiers categorise indicators based on whether not there are internationally agreed standards determined by UN Statistical Commission and accepted/used for development in national contexts. She acknowledged that determination of internationally agreed standards remains a challenge. To meet this challenge, chief statisticians and experts on all SDG target issues were asked to complete a questionnaire, which the IAEG-SDGs will take into account to classify the global indicators into tiers after the 47th UN Statistical Commission.

The IAEG-SDGs is responsible for defining terms carefully to ensure they can be measured the same way in all countries. Having established international standards, Schweinfest added, “creates a common language, which enables transfer of knowledge from one country to another.” Standards are developed by the countries themselves. Thus, countries struggling with the compilation of certain indicators can use the international standards as a starting point.

The adoption of the global indicator framework by the United Nations Statistical Commission will be a major step in taking the agenda ‘from commitments to results,’ as per the theme of the 2016 UN Economic and Social Council and is integral to the achievement of the SDGs and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

Many of the core reports to read in preparation for the 47th UN Statistical Commission are linked in this blog. In addition, a briefing for civil society organizations will be held on Monday, 29 February 2016, from 13:15 to 14:30, in Conference Room 12 at the UN headquarters in New York. More information can be found here.