With over 2,000 experts from more than 100 countries and numerous international organisations, civil society, private sector and academia, the second UN World Data Forum was an exciting opportunity to discuss initiatives and challenging nuts-yet-to-crack around IDP statistics.
For our part, we organised a session on challenges and solutions to the production of statistics of IDPs in order to make sure that these vulnerable populations are not left behind in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. We also attended other sessions and had inspiring discussions on, among other things, improving statistics production through innovative approaches, ensuring that no one is left behind in data, building statistical capacity and enhancing trust in statistics.
Key takeaways for IDP data
Many IDPs end up in protracted situations, unable to overcome challenges resulting from their displacement. Including them in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda is crucial in order to reach truly sustainable and inclusive development and, in order to do this, improved statistics of IDPs are needed. As Petra Nahmias from UNHCR has stated “if we do not measure them, then they will remain invisible. It may be a cliché but in order to count, everyone must be counted and for no-one is this truer than the forcibly displaced” However, many operational, technical and political challenges (often connected to on-going conflict situations, political barriers and difficult identification of IDP groups) persist.
Our session was shaped around a panel of experts including Mariana Kotzeva (Director General of Eurostat), Bahadur Hellali (National Statistics and Information Authority of Afghanistan), Zlatan Hadžić (Agency for Statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina), Emmanuel Letouzé (Director of the Data-Pop Alliance), and Bina Desai (Head of Policy & Research at IDMC).
Here are some key points from the fruitful conversation with panellists and participants:
The crucial role of national authorities and national statistical systems
As pointed out by Bahadur Hellali, although a lot of data are collected by humanitarian organisations in Afghanistan, the Government is rarely involved in this process, making it unlikely to use these data for its own plans. It then appears clear that national ownership and leadership in the production of IDP statistics is key for making sure that displaced persons are included in the national development plans and budget allocations. In fact, while the exact role of the national statistical office in the data production process varies from one context to another, they are more often than not a key actor within the national statistical system for quality control and coordination with other producers of IDP statistics, such as the line ministry responsible for providing assistance to displaced persons.
However, national statistical offices face many challenges when collecting data on IDPs. These may relate to operational issues, the need for improved coordination between data users and producers within the national statistical system as well as with other actors, or the lack of guidance and standards on quality statistics of these populations in line with international principles. Interestingly, many sessions at the WDF also highlighted the need for technical and capacity building support to enhance production of IDP statistics, something that we strongly support and advocate for at JIPS (as explained in our 2018-2020 strategy).
Combining traditional and innovative data collection approaches
Innovative approaches such as use call detail records or record linkage are emerging and can significantly improve our real-time understanding of the situation of displaced populations. This is all the more relevant against the urgent need for better evidence on displaced populations to make them more visible in statistics and to better respond to their situations.
Participants nevertheless also voiced concerns in regard to data on IDPs in and of itself being sensitive in many contexts. The panel concluded however that some of these concerns are more based on fear of the unknown than actual facts and highlighted that important work is underway to make use of these types of data in a safe way.
This said, “traditional” quantitative methods such as household surveys still defend their place in ensuring that comprehensive analysis of the situation of displaced populations is available to inform policy making and implementation. They are also crucial for ensuring that findings from big data analysis are grounded and adequately contextualised. Similarly, the important role of qualitative data to deepen the analysis was highlighted.
Following the panel discussion, Mariana Kotzeva, Director General of Eurostat, delivered her concluding remarks by sharing the work of the Expert Group on Refugee and IDP Statistics (EGRIS), which is developing international standards and guidance on statistics of refugees and IDPs in collaboration with over 40 country members and around 25 international organisations and statistical experts. The recently published Technical Report on Statistics of Internally Displaced Persons: Current Practise and Recommendations for Improvement is one of the achievements of the EGRIS this far, paving the way towards international recommendations on IDP statistics, currently under development by the group. At JIPS we are looking forward to finalising the draft recommendations with group members at a meeting planned in December 2018 hosted by the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics, ready for submission to the UN Statistical Commission.
Commitment moving forward: more and better funding for statistics
Beyond IDP data, the World Data Forum sessions discussed multiple new and exciting initiatives to improve statistics production in challenging contexts and on vulnerable populations in the context of Agenda 2030. Many of the sessions specifically focused on or touched upon the topic of capacity building of national statistical offices to ensure sustainability of the new approaches and make sure that high quality, independent statistics are available for decision-makers and the public in all contexts. In addition to ensuring that statistics are locally produced and owned, many of the sessions in the Forum identified the overall need to build trust in statistics as one of the most pressing challenges for the statistical community at large.
A concrete outcome of the WDF is the Dubai Declaration, launched at the Forum, which -among other issues – resolves to ensure availability of high quality disaggregated statistics to all users, advances use of new data sources and enhance new data partnerships. To achieve this, a new funding mechanism will be established under the UN Statistical Commission to mobilise domestic and international funds to support national statistical systems in fulfilling the data needs for full implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
At JIPS, we welcome this new commitment that enables governments through their national statistical systems to lead on provision of official statistics crucial for decision-making, including on those displaced within their countries.