Perspectives [PART 1]: Inside the JIPS-Statistics Norway-NORCAP Collaboration

23.Mar.2021
By JIPS

Partnership. The 17th Sustainable Development Goal, and part of a global promise to share the knowledge, expertise, and resources to build ‘a better and more sustainable future for all’. Founded in 2009, JIPS has long advocated for this process. We are known for our collaborative approach and are always working to bring governments, communities, humanitarian and development actors together to support the responsible generation and use of quality data in complex settings.

It sounds good on paper, but semantics matter. As we launch our new three-year strategy, we want to take this chance to explore what the term ‘partnership’ really means. Shining a light on a unique three-way collaboration between JIPS, Statistics Norway (SSB), and NORCAP, this two-part series does exactly that – with Part 1 exploring the process behind, and the direct impact of, a partnership that is helping to shape the way the world sees displacement statistics.

 

The start of a new conversation

The JIPS-SSB-NORCAP partnership began in 2013, a year which – by its end – saw an estimated 51.2 million people forcibly displaced (source: UNHCR, Global Trends 2030). With 33% becoming refugees and another 64% displaced within the borders of their own countries, as numbers grew, so did concerns around the availability and quality of information on those affected. And so, when representatives from the UNHCR and JIPS approached the SSB to discuss a new partnership to help address this issue, the conversation moved quickly.

“We had a lot in common [with JIPS and UNHCR], especially on the methodological side. Projects were developed very quickly, and we decided to begin with a roster of experts from SSB that could be deployed to different situations”.
– Vebjørn Aalandslid [SSB]

 

From exploring how to use Kosovo’s population housing census to get a baseline on internally displaced persons, to methodology design and data analysis at displacement camps in Myanmar, the early years of this three-way partnership were marked by a series of successful, short-term projects. Buoyed by the initial proof of concept and the mutual benefit it brought, the partnership soon evolved. Strengthened and empowered through funding from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA), it grew both internally (through systems and processes) and as an influential voice on the international stage.

 

Two persons working together on a laptop, with maps on the table.

When statisticians talk to statisticians: colleagues from Statistics Norway and the statistical office in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq work together during the profiling exercise implemented in 2015-16. @ JIPS

 

In 2014, the SSB and UNHCR published a joint report highlighting an increasingly urgent need for reliable statistics that ensure refugees and internally displaced persons are not left behind. Presented at the 46th Annual Meeting of the United Nations Statistical Committee, it was the first time in the organisation’s 70 year history that this topic was discussed. Catalysing a stream of work that saw JIPS and SSB lead the development, together with other actors, of the first-ever International Recommendations on IDP Statistics, it was an event that marked the start of a new phase for the partnership. One that would help bring new focus and rigour to the world of displacement statistics.

 

How it works: understanding the JIPS-SSB-NORCAP partnership

Partnerships are a two-way process. You have to give, as well as receive. In the case of JIPS-SSB-NORCAP, the roles are clearly defined – with each partner bringing their own expertise and opening themselves up to shared learning. The aim? To make forcibly displaced persons visible in statistics – in line with the principle that who gets counted, counts, and with the belief that (better) accounting for IDPs in official statistics will lead to more recognition for their specific situation.

Specialists in internal displacement, JIPS has over 12 years’ experience working with partners in complex situations to jointly generate and use evidence on internal displacement situations. As the main producer of official statistics in Norway, the context might be different, but the language is the same – with SSB bringing the technical rigour and methodological expertise needed to refine and develop these processes.

“JIPS’ partners are not always well-versed in statistics and sometimes they are cutting corners so that they can act quickly. It is, however, important to bring a statistical perspective to this work, and this is what I feel I can give them. The statistical knowledge needed to help improve the quality of data collected in a crisis situation.”
– Dag Roll-Hansen [SSB]

 

Connecting JIPS’ field-based expertise to the realm of national statistics, it is NORCAP (the most utilised Stand-By-Partner providing specialist staff to the humanitarian, peace, and development sectors) that facilitates and funds, through a strategic partnership with the NMFA, the deployment of SSB staff to the JIPS team in Geneva. Shifting from an ad-hoc, needs-based approach to a more systematic collaboration, placements last from two to 12 months. SSB team members are deployed in response to specific terms of reference, which support both day-to-day operations and field missions, as well as facilitating the broader development of best practice in displacement statistics.

It is a unique combination, and it works. By drawing on the strengths and expertise of all three organisations, JIPS-SSB-NORCAP has offered a powerful mixture of field-based and technical expertise. The partnership has enabled the critical inclusion of statistical actors, bolstered by SSB’s ability to connect with national statistics offices worldwide, and helped normalise their participation in the data process.

 

Redefining and reshaping displacement profiling

The impact and potential of this work is huge. Good-quality statistics are the cornerstone of any government information system, and the inclusion of refugees and internally displaced people critical to ‘policy decision-making in support of sustainable development, peace and security’. A key part of political discussions, it is essential that their foundation is rigorous and solid. To be used effectively, partners need to trust the process and its outputs. As our work in Iraq and other countries highlight, the combined technical and personal skills shared through the JIPS-SSB-NORCAP partnership are a key tool in enabling this.

“It offers an opportunity to contribute to the production and use of displacement data at a time when policymakers and the public have a need for quality data from a trusted source.”
– Kristine Vegard [SSB]

“Having the SSB experts sit and work with us has allowed us to critically reflect on our own practice. It has helped us be transparent about our methods. It is something we strongly advocate for, and a transparency we would like to see more often in the area of displacement data and data in general.”
– Wilhelmina Welsch [JIPS]

 

In addition to this ground-level work, the JIPS-SSB-NORCAP collaboration has taken on an increasingly strategic agenda. Playing a key role in the shaping of new standards for displacement data, highlights include:

  • The Expert Group on Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Statistics (EGRIS): Catalysed by the reports presented at the 46th and 47th Annual Meeting of the United Nations Statistical Committee, JIPS and SSB are proud to be long-standing members of the EGRIS Steering Committee. Paving the way towards better statistics on refugees and internally displaced persons, mandated recommendations were published in 2018 and 2020. Bringing together 45 national statistic offices and 20 organisations, the next years will see the group move into its third phase of work. Implementation.
  • International Recommendations on Internally Displaced Persons Statistics (IRIS): Led by JIPS and engaging SSB, UNHCR, IDMC, the UNSD, and experts from national statistics offices as well as international organisations, this ground-breaking publication is a key part of EGRIS’ work. Unanimously adopted at the UN Statistical Commission in 2020, this internationally agreed framework represents a critical milestone towards the standardisation, generation, and use of nationally-owned, high-quality data on internally displaced persons.
  • Data anonymisation: Catalysing new work around data anonymisation, this initiative sparked a broader collaboration on responsible data sharing with the UNHCR and Flowminder, as well as the elaboration of related guidance in partnership with the Centre for Humanitarian Data. Outputs from the JIPS Innovation project were also highlighted as recommendations of the UN Global Working Group on Big Data to the UN Statistical Commission and now also form an integral part of JIPS’ new three-year strategy.
  • Sampling guide for displacement situations: Published in June 2020, this online resource uses lessons learned from the field to offer practical guidance to practitioners designing sampling approaches in complex crisis situations.
  • Extensive questionnaire review: In collaboration with SSB, we are currently conducting a comprehensive review of over 30 questionnaires used in past profiling exercises. The findings and lessons learned from this internal reflection will feed directly into the work of the EGRIS and the upcoming revision of the Durable Solutions Question Bank, thus enabling a more standardised and systematic approach to questionnaire design.

 

A partnership on the move

The JIPS-SSB-NORCAP partnership has come a long way since 2013. From short-term projects to the strategic deliverables outlined above, the past eight years have seen this unique collaboration become a strategic cornerstone. A flagship venture anchored in every one of our respective business models.

Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. The compressed timeframes and demand-driven style of JIPS haven’t always aligned well with the long-term planning cycles of the SSB.

“The challenge is how we work. JIPS is demand-driven. The process is more compressed than at SSB. We acknowledge this challenge. We have been adapting to it over the last few years, planning deployments further in advance and disseminating information with SSB.”
– Wilhelmina Welsch [JIPS]

 

It is all part of the process. For JIPS, the expertise, insights, and connections brought by the SSB have become truly systemic. Outlasting any deployment timeframe or staff rotation, they are an integral part of our core operating systems. Similarly, the partnership has grown to become an ‘accepted part of the broader statistical process’ (Dag Roll-Hansen, SSB) – both within SSB and JIPS, and with partners on the ground. For NORCAP? Not only is the JIPS-SSB collaboration a core part of their deployment programme, it has also provided inspiration for their own strategy, direction, and humanitarian objectives.

“NORCAP really sees the benefits of taking on more of a collaborative and longer-term approach. This requires a bit more pre-emptive effort to find the right person and expertise, but it pays off. This enables us to do much more for the humanitarian sector. The potential is huge and the outputs are very tangible.”
– Thomas Norman [NORCAP]

 

A win-win for everyone involved, it has been a process of evolution. A partnership in every sense of the word. But this is just half of the story. As we delve even deeper into the JIPS-SSB-NORCAP collaboration, we will explore its hidden values, the personal experience of those involved, and the indirect benefits that go beyond data and make this partnership a flagship model. The benefits of which we believe can – and will – inspire the replication of similar partnerships now and in the future.

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