International Statistical Cooperation
Addressing discrepancies between national and international data: A strategy to improve the statistical credibility of the Human Development Report (HDR)
The Human Development Report (HDR) Statistical Annex is regarded as a useful compendium of human development statistics. Traditionally, the HDR carries tables with the Human Development Index (HDI) and other composite indices and their component indicators; as well as several tables with theme-related indices and indicators.
The Human Development Report Office (HDRO) is a data user. It does not collect data directly from national statistical systems but uses indicators produced by United Nations entities and affiliates with mandate for data collection, compilation and dissemination. Such Agencies include the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank. For composite indices that account for distributions across population, micro data from international surveys and databases are used (Demographic Health Surveys, Multiple Indicators Cluster Surveys, Luxembourg Income Study database, International Inequality Distribution Database, etc.).
One issue of contention with the HDR Statistical Annex is the discrepancies between national and international estimates for some of the indicators; and sometimes discrepancies across various UN Reports such as the Millennium Development Goals Report. This situation often raises questions on the accuracy and reliability of data presented in the HDR, and casts doubt on the Report’s overall statistical credibility. Such discrepancies are sometimes brought to light through government complaints after the launch of the HDR; and often continue months after the launch. In some cases, the HDR data series is contested and national estimates are claimed to be more accurate. While most data discrepancy issues have been raised, understandably, in the context of the Human Development Index (HDI), increasing attention is given to other indices and indicators.
Discrepancies between national and international estimates arise from four main reasons:
- Differences in concepts and their definitions;
- Harmonization processes in which national data, inconsistent with the international standards and definitions or of poor quality for other reasons, are adjusted for purposes of cross country comparability;
- Difficulties in the coordination between national statistical systems and international data agencies—the most recent national data may not be made available on time for international agencies to incorporate in its updated data series.
Actions taken by HDRO to reduce discrepancies
Since 2010, HDRO has put in place procedures aimed at contributing to the reduction of discrepancies between data sources. Some of these procedures are presented below.
Facilitate communication between National and International Statistical Offices
The following actions have been put in place:
- Review international data critically and scrutinize metadata thoroughly;
- Raise issues with international agencies where there are noticeable disparities between the current year and the previous year’s estimates;
- Share the names of indicators to be published in the current year’s HDR, data sources, as well as the URL for data providers, with all National Statistical Offices (NSO), Permanent Missions of Member States to the United Nations, and other stakeholders;
- Request NSOs to visit the data providers' websites and review the data to be published; to raise any concerns on estimates with the data providers and inform HDRO of such, within a given time frame after receiving the documentation;
- If the issue is not resolved between the international agency(ies) concerned and the NSO, the NSO is to advice HDRO on either to go ahead and publish the disputed estimate or refrain from publishing the data; and
- Provide HDRO with its own national estimate, the primary data source for the national estimate, detailed estimation procedure and limitations (metadata) for review by HDRO for the possibility of using the national estimate.
Improved coordination between statistics in the HDR and the MDG Report (MDGR)
Upon identification of indicators to be used in the HDR and their sources, HDRO examines those that are common with the MDGs, compares sources of the data and other relevant metadata (definition, reference time, subpopulation, etc.) and initiate a conversation with the MDG Group.
The Statistical Advisory Panel (SAP)
The SAP provides technical guidance to HDRO’s statistical activities including composite indices construction and vets all imputations of missing data and estimates undertaken by HDRO. The SAP also advises on the processes of engagement with the wider statistical community.
Specifically, the SAP provides guidance on:
- The overall methodology and indicators to be used for construction of composite indices;
- The conceptual value, appropriateness and statistical quality of other indicators presented in the statistical annex.
- The SAP is also a platform for effective interaction between data providers and other statistical stakeholders.
Contribute to knowledge management in the area of human development measurements and statistics
HDRO continues to work towards better understanding and use of composite indices and other statistical outputs of the HDR by engaging the statistical community, through side events on the margins of major UN Conferences such as the Statistics Commission, on the methodologies of composite the indices, their interpretation and their policy relevance, issues of statistical quality of data used, as well as possible national adaptation of the indices, are discussed.
HDRO also undertakes media briefings on the composite indices to promote the correct understanding and reporting of values and rankings.
Engaging the wider statistical community
Improving the quality of the human development measures has always been important for the Human Development Report Office (HDRO). The Office is cognizant of the many challenges associated with measuring human progress that is statistically robust, easy to interpret and also policy relevant.
Since 2012, HDRO has been organizing annual human development measurement conference to engage some of leading measurement experts in a discussion on existing measures; as well as ways in which the human development measurement frontier could be expanded. The annual conference provides a forum for exchange of knowledge and best practices in promoting the use and development of the high quality socio-economic policy-relevant measures of human progress.