After a year and a half of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s nearly impossible to overstate the importance and unprecedented need and demand for governance data. “Is testing and medical treatment for COVID-19 accessible to everyone without discrimination?” “What are the most common justice problems created or exacerbated by the pandemic for which people need help?” “To what extent are patients resorting to paying bribes to receive medical care before those unable to pay?” These headline-grabbing questions confronting leaders across the world can only be responded to if timely and reliable governance statistics are available – and more often than not, they’re not.
Few national statistical offices (NSOs) have invested in the production of governance statistics lately, for a host of legitimate reasons. For one, they struggle to find internationally accepted methodologies to produce official statistics on a range of governance issues. They also wrestle with severe budget cuts, which can make it all the more challenging to start producing new types of statistics. This is creating a dangerous ‘blind spot’ in our information landscape: if we don’t have the statistical means to know whether our public institutions are serving the public equitably and whether they are responsive to the needs of everyone, if we don’t have a statistical sense of whether people feel they have a say in public decision-making, and whether they trust their leaders to govern with their best interest at heart (both of which are essential for securing public support for recovery policies), how can we ensure that the trillions of dollars currently being spent on COVID-19 recovery will not go wasted?
Thus blindfolded, policymakers have been slow to detect flashpoints that quickly degenerated into civil unrest and violence, for example in reaction to the stark inequalities laid bare by the crisis or to emergency powers overreach. Meanwhile, the media, national oversight institutions and civil society groups have been ill-equipped to hold their government to account on its commitment to assist the most in need and to ‘build back better’.
We must address this blind spot if we want to come out of this crisis with improved institutions. Even in a time of fiscal constraint, investing in the expertise and systems needed to collect more and better data on prime-time governance issues is a smart long-term investment. Strengthening national governance data infrastructures will serve us now and will also prepare our systems to better respond to future shocks.
This is the utmost priority of the Praia Group on Governance Statistics, which is the only existing global platform on governance statistics specifically dedicated to NSOs. Created in 2015 by the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) “to contribute to establishing international standards and methods for the compilation of statistics on the major dimensions of governance,” the Praia Group published in March 2020 the first-ever Handbook on Governance Statistics, and more recently (Sept. 2020) a Guidance Note on Governance Statistics in the COVID-19 Era. The Group’s main focus is now on helping NSOs translate this guidance into real action on the ground.
During the UNWDF, the Praia Group launched two ‘Task Teams’ which aim, over the course of the next year, to break new grounds in the measurement of Non-Discrimination and Equality and Participation in Political and Public Affairs. Led by the NSO of Peru on Non-discrimination and by the Norwegian and Tunisian NSOs on Participation, the Task Teams will bring together national statisticians and other governance data practitioners to design the first international survey modules recognized by the global statistical community on these two topics. Importantly, these two survey modules will enable the production of comprehensive survey-based statistics on discrimination and participation that are comparable across different cultures, languages and contexts, and across time. This will be an important contribution as existing datasets produced by private- or civil society-led international and regional survey programmes focus on different subsets of issues and apply very different question formulations, which affects the comparability of the data they produce.
We have chosen to kick-off our work on discrimination and participation this year because these two thematic areas registered the highest demand from Praia Group members for more readily available methodologies and practical guidance. Not only are they central pillars for a resilient recovery from COVID-19, but existing international and regional questionnaires often do not capture important emerging issues, such as the extent to which political spaces in countries around the world are opening to younger generations, and the extent to which young people are participating in these processes, or the impact on digitally excluded populations of the growing number of public services and participation channels moving online. Our Task Teams will be mapping these gaps and crafting new questions to better respond to current information needs.
The severe limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on face-to-face surveys have also highlighted the urgency of increasing the use of administrative data sources for producing governance statistics. In addition to making the production of governance statistics more resilient in times of crises, the high disaggregation potential of administrative data and its accessibility at any point in time are also key advantages, especially in the area of governance. As such, our two Task Teams will also be developing guidance on various types of administrative data that can be used to produce official statistics in these two thematic areas, as well as recommendations on data quality assurance, on linking with other sources, indicator calculation, etc.
COVID-19 and the responses to it have brought to the fore urgent human rights and governance concerns, which have to be monitored if we want them to receive attention, and to be addressed effectively. The Praia Group is starting this year to take forward the work on Non-discrimination and Participation and next year will look to support Task Teams on additional dimensions of governance.
There has never been a more opportune time to push the frontiers of governance statistics.
For more information on the Praia Group or to join the work of the Praia Group Task Teams, please contact the Praia Group Secretariat at: Malene.Almeida@ine.gov.cv