Regional integration or cooperation processes pursue different objectives such as achieving economic and monetary integration, building a free trade area, stepping up cooperation to promote socio-economic development, among others or a combination of all the above. Regardless of the objective, such processes require comparable statistical indicators based on methodologies harmonised between countries. Hence, the need to set up an efficient Regional Statistical System (RSS) which may be facilitated through a Regional Strategy for the Development of Statistics (RSDS)
What is a RSDS ?
A Regional Strategy for the Development of Statistics (RSDS) is a masterplan for regional statistical development. It is not a contract but a guide to good practice in regional statistics cooperation. It is linked to national and regional priorities and is consistent with the NSDS of member states. It adopts the NSDS Principlesand is formulated with the objective of responding to specific regional policy objectives.
The design of the RSDS may be spearheaded by a regional statistical steering committee with secretariat support from the statistical unit of a regional organization (e.g., ASEAN, CAN, SADC, SPC) (1) .Member states should approve the RSDS ensuring it is aligned with regional development agenda and consistent with national priorities. It is ideal to have the RSDS adopted and its implementation supported at the highest political level in the region or subregion.
(1) Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), ComunidadAndina (CAN), Southern African Development Community (SADC), Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).
The purpose of designing RSDS includes:
- Respond to the statistical requirements of regional development agenda,without infringing on any country’s national sovereignty, as the regional development agenda comprises priorities that have been identified and agreed upon by the member states. Some of the data needs to inform regional development agenda may not be currently available in member countries, and if these are available, may not necessarily be comparable between countries. RSDSs are appropriate instruments to address this challenge and help narrow statistical development gaps among member states.
- Assure comparability of data in all memberstates: The formulation, implementation and monitoring of regional policies would require harmonised and comparable data in all member states. The RSDS would identify regional strategies and activities that would harmonise conceptual frameworks, methods, and toolsfor ensuring data comparability. This may also include the adoption of binding statistical regulationsin compliance with recommendations and international standards.
- Strengthen links and convergence between regional and national levels, as RSDS implies close cooperation and collaboration among member states.
- Pool statistical skills, expertise and resources at the regional level. One of the value-added aspects of regional statistical cooperation that should be a crucial part of the RSDS is the identification and pooling of human resources with statistical skills and expertise(e.g., demographer, national accountant, survey expert, gender specialist, etc.) needed in the region. Theseexperts will be deployed in member countries where their specific services are required.Alternatively, regional statistical experts could share their knowledge through conduct of capacity building activities in regional training centres. This approach is of particular interest for small countries (i.e., SIDS).
- Enable the development of statistical tools and services at the regional level that are more cost effective than at the national level. Likewise, it contributes to strengthening statistical capacities and promotes harmonisation.
- Facilitate, coordinate and strengthen representation with respect to external partners. The RSDS include strategies that strengthen relationship and engagement of member countrieswith development partners and the larger international statistical community. It also definesthe region’s common position in the international fora related to statistics.
- Highlights south-south collaboration as means for strengthening statistical capacity across the region and facilitates sharing of best practices.
- Serve as a framework for the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs (Agenda 2030) at the regional level. For some countries such as the small island development states (SIDS), a regional approach for maintaining and continuing statistical operations for generating official statistics make more sense given the paucity of the available financial and human resources, particularly in the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs. The RSDS could be a framework whereby member countries could comply with the SDG requirements while ensuring consistency with national and regional priorities and taking into consideration existing capacities.
RSDS DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION PROCESS
The RSDS process adopts the methodology employed in formulating an NSDS. Key prerequisitesin the preparation of an RSDS include a comprehensive review and assessment of the current state of the regional statistical system, its organizational and institutional environment, resource availability, data requirements to fulfil the objectives of the regional development agenda, and a diagnosis of the capacities of the national statistical systems of member states. The assessment should also consider the capacity and readiness of the statistical system toproperly monitor the SDGs and the role played by regional organizations
The RSDS will involve:
• Strong political will and validation by the authorities of the integration body and national authorities at every stage of the process.
• Establishment of an overall process, covering the entire regional statistical system with the following key players: the regional organization and its authorities, the NSSs including the national statistical offices (NSOs) and related authorities of member countries, and the national, regional, and international users of regional statistical information.
• A participatory methodology involving all the key players, driven by the statisticalunit of the regional body, where it exists, that has a mandate to carry out specific working cooperation with the NSS authoritiesof member countries
• A stage-based organisation: i.e., road map preparation, RSS assessment and validation, strategy formulation, action planning and costing, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.
The RSDS approach is likely to be all the more successful with: i) a significant political commitment at the highest regional level and from the countries, (ii) a constructive dialogue between data producers and users at national and regional levels; iii) the mobilisation of necessary resources; iv) continuous co-ordination and collaboration with technical and financial partners; and v) the regular monitoring of the implementation of the RSDS by a recognised regional organisation that would report to member countries.
The RSDS process must, by transcending national constraints, take into consideration a regional vision and new players, the authorities and agencies of the integration system. Consultation, accordingly, is not simply carried out within a country’s borders; it also takes place across borders, between the member countries of the integration area and regional authorities.
NSDS and RSDS: COMPLEMENTARY PROCESSES
The NSDS and RSDS should be complementary processes and, as such, each should take into account the requirements and activities of the other. The NSDS must include activities to produce the data needed at the regional level, and the RSDS must recognise the constraints and limitations placed on countries at the national level and their needs in statistical capacity development. In most cases RSDSs will be prepared while NSDSs are already in place in the member states. The adoption of a RSDS will then entail a revision or an updating of the NSDSs of the member states to include country commitments articulated in the RSDS.
The initiatives aimed at meeting the information requirements of the regionalbody will be reflected in existing or upcoming NSDSs. Ideally, this will ensure that statistical information produced in member countries arerendered comparable through harmonised methodologies, while coordinating the availability of data according to a well-defined timeframe.
Further, the data requirements to monitor Agenda 2030 on sustainable development would affect the existing RSDSs and NSDSs. The monitoring processes at the regional level may need to be revisited to take into consideration the region’s commitment on the SDGs while ensuring it is alignedwith member countries’ plans and priorities. For some regions with existing statistical strategies to generate data for the MDGs, a similar approach may need to be undertaken for the SDGs. The revision on existing strategies or formulation of new one should ideally take place in 2016, alongside the changes that will take place in the NSDSs of the member states for the same purpose. NSOs and the regional statistical unit should consult as soon as possible in this perspective and prepare the revision process accordingly.
The complex question of countries that still do not have an NSDS but want to adhere to a RSDS will be treated in a next update of the NSDS Guidelines. Likewise, specific recommendation for member states countries belonging to several regional organizations will be included in the RSDS Guidelines to be released by PARIS21 at the end of 2016.
The general organisation of work must be defined in the roadmap. Against the regional backdrop, it must specify who the players are, define the work to be carried out and the implementation timetable.
Acknowledging, Recognising, Understanding
The authority of the integration body receives a mandate from the Presidents of the member countries of the area to organise the regional statistical system. It would be an Executive body who decides which work is to be carried out and supervises it.
However, as countries have to answer as a priority to their national authorities, one has to ensure coordination with the authority of the NSS of the countries including through the chair of the regional statistical studies commission if established. In this manner, coordination between the Region and Nations is ensured in all the work dedicated to the elaboration of the RSDS.
Experience acquired in the processes used to design NSDSs in developing countries must be used when defining the programme of operations to be carried out. Consultation must be organised between national statistics players and regional statistics players, in an on-going process between countries and region. In order to inform on the process and ensure good understanding and cut costs, large-scale workshops or seminars can be organized exclusively during key phases of the process followed to elaborate the RSDS.
With respect to the designing of the RSDS (once the decision has been taken), one needs to draw a distinction between the preparatory phase and other technical phases. Aforesaid preparatory phase covers the following tasks:
• disseminating information and making requests within the region primarily in order to mobilise internal support and partners
• choosing who will write up the draft road map; one might consider setting up the steering committee at this stage
• drafting and adopting the road map
• setting up the project management team
Work on designing the RSDS can be carried out by the following bodies:
• Statistical unit appointed by the regional body, reporting to the executive body or regional authorities;this unit shall be responsible for managing the overall design process.
• National Committee in each country composed of 2 or 3 representatives of each NSS, in charge of coordination with their respective NSSs.
• Regional Technical Committee that drafts documents and prepares decisions to be taken and sends them to the Steering Committee.
• Regional Statistical Steering Committee that oversees the design technical process and submits for approval reports and recommendations.
• Commissions of national, regional or international experts, which will deal with specific aspects of the work programme of the roadmap.
• National consultants as resources to monitor the process followed to design the RSDS and deal with specific aspects of the work on the roadmap.
• Group of users and beneficiaries to identify the needs and quality aspects they give priority to.
• This work can be backed, if need be, by a regional (or international consultant) to provide support throughout the process.
The starting point of work aimed at designing the RSDS will consist in studying and analysing existing information, in particular the plan of operations of the integration body and its information needs. One should question national and international users about their expectations with respect to regional information.
Two activities that are crucial and cut through the entire process have to be planned:
• Setting up a process aimed at disseminating work carried out on designing the RSDS. A web page on the site of the integration body should be reserved for this purpose.
• Defining a range of operations aimed at extolling, promoting and raising awareness about regional statistics.
Furthermore, three types of action should not be neglected when designing the RSDS, as all three provide added value with respect to a successful RSDS:
• Providing the funds required to finance the designing of the RSDS and its implementation, i.e. both national and international funds. Setting up a regional statistical sub-group of donors, with representatives of the authorities of the integration area, would be a highly positive initiative.
• Drawing up a list of requirements in the field of international technical cooperation.
• Defining the human resources required to implement the RSDS.
Vision, Strategies, Action plans
The process of designing the RSDS can be completed after 12 to 18 months of work. To meet this objective, a Gantt chart could be adopted:
• Drafting and adopting the roadmap: 2 months.
• Drafting and adopting the diagnosis: 5 months.
• Drafting the vision and strategies: 3 months.
• Choice of regional strategy: 1 month.
• Drafting and adopting the action plan: 4 months.
• Setting up a monitoring and evluation process.
The choices made to draw up the Gantt chart will have to be, first and foremost, realistic and agreed upon with all regional statistics players.
The ultimate goal for the vision of the regional statistical system would be good synchronization between the RSDS design and the NSDS design or revision.