Tuesday Jun 26, 2007

Statistics, Knowledge and Society: OECD World Forum, Istanbul

Sunshine is the best disinfectant. 

A thousand statisticians are gathered in Istanbul to consider how to measure the progress of society...as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan just said in his opening address, "the guidance and measure every policy maker must have to act correctly" comes from their work.

The challenge is to measure the right things, and to tell the truth, when the truth can offend.

This morning, in the session dedicated to building indicators of good governance, the Secretary General of the Philippines National Statistical Office described measurements of good governance his office has created in 81 provinces in the Philippines. In the 2007 elections, of the thirty highest-ranked governors, 18 won, 7 lost; of the thirty worst governors, 19 won. Evidently, the measurement has room for improvement, and certainly a long way to go in gaining public acceptance. Still, the proposition that it is the role of the National Statistical Office to create such a measurement was attacked by the representative from Sudan, from Jordan, and from Egypt.

The Sudanese representative went further, attacking the low ranking Sudan received on women's equity by asserting that measurements imposed from outside did not take into account the structure of rural life, where women worked in complete equality alongside men. The Jordanian representative felt that the government should not report anything that could affect elections. The Egyptian questioned the reliability and stability of measurements of good governance.

Ever since the pioneering work in 1990 by Mahbub ul Haq, Amartya Sen and others to go beyond simple GDP measurements to create measurements of the quality of human life, hundreds of organizations have been attempting to capture reality, measure progress, create a way to understand how well we are doing, and guide decision making. The best example is the Human Development Index, contained in the annual Human Development Report

But the list of required reading is long: Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, World Bank , the Boston Indicators Project

The Secretary General of the OECD, Angel Gurria, is challenging the world experts assembled here to create tools to guide the world.  In surveys around the world, asking citizens whether they think their national policies were developed based on facts, more that fifty per cent said no.

The State of the USA Project initiative, with Harvey Fineman, President of the Institute of Medicine and others pushing to create "outcome based measurements today" got a big push from the US Comptroller General. "It's time we had that kind of information", said Dave Walker, Comptroller General of the US GAO, who has created a project with the US National Academy of Science to create a key national indicator system.

 The US project has been underway since 2003; the prototype website is called the Key National Indicators Initiative.

The site is broken now...it shows that a Microsoft Server cannot find the objects requested...but it should be trivial to fix it.

I'm hoping that the Sun project to rewrite the Gapminder visualization system of Hans Rosling will contribute a base....ever since Google bought Gapminder in March 2007, there has been hope to build an open system for showing dynamic change in data. 

New Zealand is creating a system in every local community; how will they combine in national systems?

 

Summary of presentations: 

US GAO: Dave Walker: economic output is not the only thing that is important.  What form might an indicator organization take? A government-sanctioned entity that might be chartered by the government, but not run by the government.  They shouldn't run it. What we need is a set of indicators that recognize that some things are going well, some things aren't.  We need a system of indicators that would let us move beyond today's partisan freeze.

Maybe even down to zipcodes...for comparability...and internationally.

Next week, announcement of a Rockefeller project on economic insecurity: indicators and index of individual insecurity.

 What has changed?  Key players are coming together...attempts to make domestic systems come together have failed.  The US is facing major sustainable challenges that we are not addressing well.

Capacity to measure: not enough program evaluation capability, not enough audit capability in US.

Develop core indicators, then disaggrate, at different levels of society.

I don't think it's productive to rank countries.  Do rankings on each indicator.

Importance of comparison: the US today is the only superpower. Today. That's temporary.  The US is relying too much on its past.  We have serious sustainability challenges.  We're not taking them seriously enough.  Take the OECD statistics, the US is 16th out of 28.  Very few Americans know that. That's unacceptable.  Take if from a CPA, the world's only superpower is below average.


 


 

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