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Economic efficiency

True Demand for Data

Michael M. Lokshin's picture
Headquarters of the United Nations
Photo: Yutaka Nagata (CC BY 2.0)

A snow storm was barreling toward New York City and the roster of attendees at the UN Statistical Committee meeting—myself included—fully expected that all flights would be canceled. Fifty statisticians made the same calculation—to find the closest bar. I headed to the Vienna Café in the UN headquarters building, a place which affords one the rarified opportunity to socialize with high-level government officials from around the world. On my way in, I recognized the Director-General of a statistics office from an African country and we spoke. I mentioned several statistical programs that donors were planning to finance in his country. He expressed enthusiasm about these projects but voiced an increasingly familiar note of concern about long term sustainability of his agency in general. He fretted that his entire statistical office would collapse without donor support. He admitted that most of the demand for data was coming from the donors themselves, as indicators for their own reporting and planning; the country’s own government had much less interest in data or statistics.