PARIS21 Cross Regional Forum

28-29 October 2019

PARIS21’s Cross Regional Forum (CRF) 2019 brings together the producers and users of statistics in NSSs to explore unique experiences and perspectives.

The key objectives of the forum include:

  • Discussing how truth and trust work in modern societies and the implications for NSSs,
  • Discussing the key trust-related challenges for NSSs and their data
  • Showcasing examples of NSSs successfully adapting and discuss scaling-up of solutions, and
  • launching the "Enhancing trust – PARIS21 2020" initiative, to design and fund pilot activities in countries to improve trust in data.

CRF builds on the takeaways from the 2018 PARIS21 Annual Conference on "Truth in Numbers: The role of data in a world of fact, fiction and everything in between” and anchors the discussions around developing trustworthy NSOs, and their role in building and sustaining trust in the broader data ecosystem. We seek to bring together representatives from NSSs, donor and technical cooperation agencies, media, government, civil society organisations and private sector, from different parts of the world - with a particular focus on low and middle-income countries.


Why does trust matter for national statistical systems?

Trust matters for national statistical systems (NSS) because it affects the adoption of its main product—official statistics—by government, the private sector, academia and citizens. Official statistics by their own accord are not trustworthy. Other factors, including institutional practices, compliance with the UN fundamental principles can be seen as ways to build trust. Trust also matters for NSS since it can influence the extent to which respondents are willing to share their data due to concerns about privacy or potential misuse. NSS funding is also dependant on trust, especially in low and middle-income countries.

Historically, official statistics have supported credible public discourses for decades and perceived as trustworthy truth-holders of the past. So why the acute emphasis on trust building now?

What has changed?

For one - official statistics is no longer the only lens we have to understand the increasingly intricate world around us.  The role of big data, digital technologies and platforms in today's bludgeoning information landscape has democratized access to much of the world’s knowledge. New data sources like call detail records, social media, satellite imagery coupled with emerging methods in data sciences, machine learning, predictive analytics etc. have reimagined ways to capture our modern society, in ways official statistics have traditionally not. These agile competing approaches to data and statistics do not have rigid scales and taxonomies, thereby seizing our fluid identities and sentiments in real-time to discover insightful patterns and trends – making them exciting and controversial just the same.

By contrast, official statistics might appear less relatable and highly abstracted from our daily lives, undermining their long-term relevance and credibility. The legitimacy of statistical classifications and indicators traditionally used to represent demographic, social and economic changes is slowly slipping away. It is not surprising that headline indicators like GDP and employment rates are facing growing criticism for their questionable value, as they conceal all sorts of murkier fractures in society.

This issue is made worse by the populist attack on “experts” and “elites” who have “lost touch” with ordinary people,  and declining trust in public institutions. These trends have ushered in a new post-truth socio-political climate characterised by amplified disinformation and biases in our real and virtual echo chambers.

The challenge for NSSs: how can they lead the way in developing trust?

Many NSSs are starting to adapt to this new context. Embracing openness, implementing new forms of communication, collaborating with diverse stakeholders from the private sector, the media and academia, all show promise. However, much more needs to be done to meet the trust challenge.

Trust is much easier to lose than gain. Earlier this year, a survey in Japan found that that nearly 80 percent of people lost trust in the government’s economic indicators after years of faulty wage data marred by sampling errors were released. Similar stories came out from India and the UK where, respectively, GDP and employment statistics were under public scrutiny. Consequently, this has led to a two-fold challenge in the current digital age for NSSs: to enhance the integrity and relevance of official statistics to the layperson, and to reverse the decline of public confidence in official numbers and expertise.

Every day, more and more of our data is harvested without our complete knowledge, processed by techniques that we don’t fully comprehend and by actors whose interests may or may not be benevolent. The official statistics community therefore has a renewed importance in playing a critical role to bring credible, evidence-based information to the public. To do so, institutions like national statistics offices (NSOs) must go beyond their traditional data production remit to become a trusted, visible force for reason in people’s lives by building trust, maintaining their relevance, and communicating proactively. This is especially important since data quality (a conventional focus for NSOs) is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to create and sustain trust in statistics. Other reputational and structural factors also matter greatly. (OECD, 2011)

For more on PARIS21's Cross Regional Fora: http://www.paris21.org/cross-regional-engagement