Data and statistics have been gaining increased attention at the global level. One of the main discussions right now surrounds the value and use of data. The Economist asserts that ‘the value of data is increasing,’ and that ‘data are to this century what oil was to the last one: a driver of growth and change’. According to a World University Network workshop, data diplomacy is ‘an emerging cross-disciplinary idea that addresses the role of diplomacy and negotiation in relation to data access and sharing, as well as the impact of data on diplomatic relationships among nations and organizations’. According to DiploFoundation’s Director, Dr Jovan Kurbalija, ‘data is rapidly moving to the “premier league” of global diplomacy, alongside the more traditional issues of disarmament, health, trade, migration, and human rights’. The aim of this blog post is to give insight into the role of data and statistics in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) region in supporting national and regional policy objectives and decision-making.
The discussion is nothing new for the CARICOM region. The importance of statistics to decision-making, good governance, accountability and improved standards of living of the peoples of the community, was recognised back in 1974, one year after the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, with the establishment of the Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians (SCCS) to improve the collection and use of statistics across the region. At the First High Level Advocacy Forum on Statistics held in the republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 2009, Dr Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, stressed that citizens of CARICOM needed appropriate statistics to hold their ‘governments and all serious stakeholders, accountable’. The region has demonstrated its commitment to producing timely and accurate statistics. Over the last few years, with the support of the International Development Partners (IDPs), a number of regional outputs have been achieved.
In 2002, the region began to look at statistics for the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), and under the 9th European Development Fund (EDF) project, a Statistical Monitoring Framework was developed through a collaboration between the Strategic Management and Planning Program, the CSME Unit and the Regional Statistic Program. A Second High Level Advocacy Forum on Statistics was convened in St George’s, Grenada on 26 May 2014 under the theme, ‘A data revolution for sustainable development with a new international initiative to improve the quality of statistics and information available to citizens’. The Action Plan for the Improvement of Statistics was endorsed by the 37th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government, which was held in Georgetown, Guyana, in July 2016.
More recently, at the 38th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM held at Grand Anse, Grenada, in July 2017, the heads of government reiterated their commitment to the Regional Plan for Statistics Development in light of the growing demand for data on social, economic and environmental indicators and endorsed a strategy to guide good practices in regional statistical co-operation. The heads of government emphasised the importance of accurate data in order to monitor and implement effective national and regional policies, particularly in relation to the CSME and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Despite these achievements, there are still critical data gaps and issues affecting the overall development of statistics in CARICOM that need to be addressed. At the First High Level Advocacy Forum on Statistics, participants underscored the need for increased advocacy, for more official commitment to statistics, and the mobilisation of additional resources for the field. In his message to mark the 6th Caribbean Statistics Day, CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin La Rocque stated that investment in statistics remained challenging and that the CARICOM Secretariat continued to work with member states to improve the coverage, reliability and quality of the traditional areas of statistics and develop frameworks to measure new and emerging issues. He stated that the 2nd High-Level Advocacy Forum on Statistics ‘issued a call for commitment by governments of the community to strengthen the national statistical systems as a key means of sustaining the development and availability of timely, high-quality and relevant statistics for decision-making, and for the empowerment of citizens of the entire region’. According to the then Acting Premier of the Cayman Islands, Mr Mark Scotland, the theme for Statistics Day 2012 underscored the need for collaborative actions and the building of partnerships, to enable the investment of adequate resources in statistics.
Mitchell continues to advocate for the acceleration of a regional approach to the further development of statistics since a regional approach could build statistical capacity and help to optimise the use of public resources of member states. In the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the demand for statistics is expected to increase and therefore greater efforts would be required to address the deficiencies that still exist. Statistics also have an important role in is the achieving of the Strategic Priorities of CARICOM’s first ever Five-Year Strategic Plan (2015-2019).
Data gathering continues and the institutional arrangements are in place to support the effective implementation of the Regional Plan for Statistics Development. Incorporating technology and innovation would also be critical to the implementation process, as would be adequate financing and the inclusion of an inter-sectoral approach.
Rawl Prescott is a Project Officer at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat and holds a Post Graduate diploma in International Studies