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Statistics and Monitoring

World Statistics Day: There’s power in numbers

By Priyanka Pruthi

NEW YORK, USA, 20 October 2010 – The importance of numbers in shaping our lives was acknowledged worldwide today on the first-ever World Statistics Day. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the observance to celebrate the role of statistics in social and economic development – and to pay tribute to the global community of statisticians, whose contributions sometimes go unnoticed.

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UNICEF, a leader on statistics relating to children and women, joined a wide range of national and international organizations in marking World Statistics Day. At UNICEF headquarters in New York, the day featured an exhibit and presentations on the organization’s key role in supporting the collection, analysis and use of data around the world.

‘A great opportunity’

UNICEF experts at the presentations called attention to the essential part that data and statistics play in the development of effective policies and programmes to help improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2069/Toutounji
Statistics and Monitoring Communications Specialist Daniel Vadnais speaks about the latest available data on children and women, at an event commemorating World Statistics Day at UNICEF House in New York.

“It was a great opportunity for us to highlight the work that we have been doing for many years in the area of monitoring and statistics,” said UNICEF Statistics and Monitoring Communications Specialist Daniel Vadnais.

“Many people are not aware,” he added, “that a lot of the data that is found in our flagship publications, such as ‘The State of the World’s Children’ and ‘Progress for Children’ – and a series of sector-specific reports – are actually coming either from data we collect ourselves or through MICS.”

Data-collection challenges

MICS, or Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, are among the most important statistical tools used by UNICEF and other agencies to identify problems, evaluate programmes and monitor progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2067/Toutounji
A woman reads about the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets to children, at an event commemorating World Statistics Day at UNICEF House.

“In these surveys, we go from household to household and interview people for over an hour about questions pertaining to their housing conditions, the health of their children and access to public health services,” explained Mr. Vadnais.

“It’s very complicated to implement this survey in the field, especially in countries where the conditions are very challenging for political or geographical reasons,” he continued. “We have stories from field in Bhutan, where statisticians had to go 4,000 metres high in the mountains to interview households. But they did it.”

Informed decisions

However, data collection is just the beginning of the process. Raw data are later analyzed, and estimates are developed and reviewed to see what they reveal about human development issues. These findings are then communicated to humanitarian and development professionals – and to governments – to inform their decisions on programme design and implementation.

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UNICEF Statistics and Monitoring Officer Caroline Okumu (left) speaks with Statistics and Monitoring Specialist Libbet Horn-Phathanothai at an event commemorating World Statistics Day.

Over the past 15 years, some 200 MICS surveys have been carried out in over 100 countries, providing critical data on education, nutrition, water and sanitation, child protection, domestic and sexual violence, disease prevention and treatment, and more.

UNICEF is also active in a series of inter-agency MDG monitoring groups, which develop and validate new methodologies to estimate trends; select new indicators and monitoring tools; build statistical capacity at the country level; work out joint estimates; and harmonize monitoring work among multiple partner organizations.

DevInfo databases

“We find that there’s a lot of business data today available, but this is a day to focus on human development data,” said Kris Oswalt, Executive Director of the DevInfo Support Group, which maintains a UN-endorsed database system.

“It’s a challenge to move forward with finding the best ways to collect and disseminate this kind of data,” Mr. Oswalt noted. “UNICEF has been leading in this area, and it has been able to help bring a new richness to the type of data available. The organization has helped us understand that development is not just an improvement in GDP; it’s an improvement in the social sector as well.”

UNICEF and other UN agencies support the development of DevInfo software, adaptations of which are currently used in more than 130 countries to track progress against national development targets.

Tracking MDG progress

UNICEF also maintains separate databases, updated annually, for tracking the situation of children and women. Used extensively by governments and development partners, the data are also the basis for high-level reports such as the UN Secretary-General’s ‘Report on MDG Progress.’

All the latest data compiled by UNICEF are available to the public via www.childinfo.org, the one-stop source for up-to-date and reliable statistical information on women and children.




Watch a video detailing Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey methodology, tools and sampling, and the survey's importance to national governments.
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