1. You have been described as the “founding mother of PARIS21” – how did that come about?
I am delighted to be labeled as the Founding Mother of PARIS21. 15 years ago I was part of the group that created the initiative and sorted out the many details leading to the establishment of PARIS21. I recall the meeting in Paris at the World Bank offices, where PARIS21 was created. The World Bank, the OECD, many UN agencies and programs, and DAC donors came together because they were convinced that better development outcomes could be achieved if there were better statistics available. At the meeting we were challenged by Claire Short (former UK Secretary of State for International Development) who gave her famous speech on evidence-based decision making. Our discussions at that meeting were also pregnant with the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers that pointed to the importance of encouraging countries to set their own goals and measure progress towards them using their own statistics.
2. The environment that frames statistical capacity in developing countries has changed. Where does PARIS21 fit in?
When PARIS21 was set up, the world was facing a huge data crisis. Even before the MDGs, there was a growing interest in monitoring the development outcomes recorded in the International Development Goals, which paved the way for the MDGs. At the same meeting that PARIS 21 was agreed, the first global report on development goals was under discussion. That report, “A Better World for All”, was the first document signed by the heads of the United Nations, the OECD, the World Bank, and the IMF. Besides drawing attention to the successes and shortcomings of development efforts already underway, “A Better World for All” was a wakeup call for all that the statistical sector needed help. It was evident that no one organization could fix the problem so partnership was the way to go. Therefore, selling the idea of PARIS21 (once the concept was articulated) was rather easy! PARIS21 is now in a great position to become the global partnership for development data as articulated in the recent UN HLP report. It would continue to support the new agenda of the Busan Action Plan for Statistics (BAPS) as the secretariat for its implementation. As part of its role in implementing the BAPS, PARIS21 should recognize and become a leading advocate for statistics as a public good, and that means Open Data for all.
3. You mentioned Open data. What does the partnership need to best react to new developments?
Partner organizations are taking stat work much more seriously, so this challenges PARIS21 to be even smarter and show value. Data suppliers are also expanding and ranging over public, international, and private sources. There are new norms such as Open data, open source tools, mobile access and new visualization tools, etc. Skills have improved significantly for access and use of data but there is still a huge skills gap, and what I think is a growing information asymmetry among our clients. We also have challenges closer to home: shortage of funding; not all partners are active in PARIS21 and should be brought in; the MDGs and the post-2015 is a huge agenda with unknown boundaries. So we are in danger of not doing the right thing or to overpromise what can be done. All this together puts us at a time of historic opportunity to accelerate Statistical Capacity development through partnership.
4. In your experience, which areas of PARIS21 work have most positively influenced statistical capacity?
In terms of impact and adding value, PARIS21 has been strong when it has brought partners together to build synergy and maximize the use of comparative advantage of member organizations. This has been done through Task Teams. One of my favorites was the NSDS guidelines, which played a big role in harmonizing work on demographic data work. Another was the collection of case studies of six countries that examined their capacity to produce statistics for monitoring the MDGs. Talk about a wakeup call! We are still quoting that report as evidence of how far we have come and how much more we have to do. One of the best examples of a valuable deliverable from PARIS21 is the work on and the reporting of PRESS, which again is a true partnership product. PARIS21 shouldn’t take on work that is not based on partnership but on other political/financial factors. It isn’t a half-way house for forgotten programs that other agencies have failed to deliver. It should also not get into routine operational work and remain a partnership to try out and innovate ideas. It should focus above all on areas that actively stir up NSOs, their governments, donors, and civil society organizations, to raise their game and recognize the value of statistics.
5. You will soon be leaving the Development Data Group at the World Bank. Do you intend to continue contributing to statistical capacity in any way?
I will be around for a few more months to wrap up at the Bank. Data and statistical capacity building is more than a job/career for me. It has become my passion, so I will be very involved after the Bank in setting up a non-profit organization to promote Open Data practices, standards, and knowledge. Together I think we have done an amazing job to put data and stats on the map. My personal thanks go to all PARIS21 Managers and staff. I hope to keep in touch and that our paths cross again in the future.