Published on Let's Talk Development

World Statistics Day – Realizing Dreams

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As Vice President of Development Economics, I am responsible for a large part of the World Bank's work on statistics: data generated by research, a large set of development indicators and specialized sectoral databases, and projections based upon statistical analysis. And that is why I will be joining in the World Bank’s events celebrating the first World Statistics Day – 20.10.2010 – designated by the United Nations General Assembly to acknowledge the many achievements of official statistics.

For more than five decades the World Bank has contributed to the international statistical system, through its research, its publications, and investments in the statistical capacity of developing countries.

Since the 1950s the Debtor Reporting System has monitored the debt of developing countries. From this grew Global Development Finance and a database used around the world. The first statistical publication of the World Bank was the World Bank Atlas in 1966, which included just three indicators. It has now appeared in 40 editions. In 1977 the first World Development Report (WDR) included a comprehensive statistical annex called the World Development Indicators, which became a separate, flagship publication in 1997. The Living Standards Measurement Study, initiated in 1980, has led the way in developing new instruments for collecting information on the welfare of people. In 1990 the WDR on poverty defined absolute poverty at a level of $1 a day, setting a standard that was incorporated in the Millennium Development Goals. And in the early 2000s, the poverty mapping project produced small area estimates that have been influential in directing attention to inequities in the distribution of services and facilities.

Today the World Bank’s website,, provides free access to more than 4,000 indicators spanning the full development agenda. To improve the quality of these data is a priority part of our work program with significant investments from The World Bank’s own resources and from trust funds provided by other donors.

The first World Statistics Day comes just one week after the Annual Meetings of the IMF and World Bank where President Robert Zoellick highlighted the Open Data Initiative as a core element of the World Bank’s Open Development strategy. A few weeks earlier the President gave a speech at Georgetown University where he called for a fundamentally new way of searching for development solutions. Multipolar research in a multipolar world, he said, will draw on lessons from the experiences of all countries. This was the first time that any World Bank president had given a speech on economic research. Statistics play a critical role in research and must continue to evolve, underpinning the expansion of development knowledge to meet our mission of ending poverty. We need to know what has worked in different countries, in different circumstances, following different strategies, and the evidence of these results will be expressed in the language of statistics.

My dream is to create an environment where researchers and analysts have access to a wide range of reliable data: long time-series, household and firm surveys, and special studies; where they can share their own data; and where they can work together as a community to solve development problems. This is the goal of Open Development:  Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions.

I am confident that my dream will come true. I believe so because in my work with statisticians and information systems specialists, I have always been impressed with their dedication and passion, their attention to quality, and their eagerness to meet the needs of data users. So on October 20, join me in celebrating the past accomplishments of the global statistical system and the new knowledge that future progress in statistics will bring.



Justin Yifu Lin

Former World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice President

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