Message from the Secretary-General of the OECD

 

 

 

The OECD Forum on "Statistics, Knowledge and Policy" is an important opportunity to discuss one of the fundamental issues both for policy makers and citizens: how can we assess the current situation of our economies and societies? For the very first time, policy makers, academics, statisticians, media experts, civil society’s representatives from all OECD countries will meet to address this issue, comparing national experiences and strategies, identifying challenges for future developments and evaluating how the OECD can work to improve the present understanding of economic, social and environmental trends.

We live in a rapidly changing, increasingly interdependent world at a pivotal moment in history. Complex cross-boundary responses are required to meet a host of daunting issues and opportunities – ranging from climate change, terrorism and energy independence to education, health care and national security. Demands have escalated on our social, economic and environmental capital. Productive debate and decisions – whether in local communities, the media, or the halls of government – require comprehensive, trustworthy and comprehensible information.

Everyone agrees that reliable knowledge of the reality of markets, of economic and social developments, etc. is absolutely critical for the success of a government policy, a political strategy and even an individual enterprise. However, in this "Information Age", access to knowledge is not the problem; it is determining what to know and how to distinguish between good and bad information that poses the challenge.

This is, of course, most relevant when speaking about policy-makers who require a great deal of knowledge, much of this being reliable statistics, in order to make sound policy decisions. This "knowledge-based" decision-making has become a common slogan to refer to responsible, thoughtful policy decisions made on behalf of citizens. However, in order to transform this slogan into concrete, consistent practice, large advances must be made to improve the access, comparability and reliability of statistical information.

The OECD is a natural leader for such an initiative. For an organisation like the OECD, which does not have any legislative power, the strength of our proposals and the success of our initiatives can only come from the quality and credibility of our work, largely based on the reliability of statistics used to derive policy prescriptions. We do a great deal of benchmarking which involves taking a statistical photo at one point in time in order to be able to indicate progress at another period of time where there will be another statistical photograph. This allows measurement of advancements that are consistent and long term. OECD publications cover several subject matters, highlighting "hard facts" and discussing actual and future policies.

And we are not alone in this quest. Serious efforts throughout the world are now focusing on developing comprehensive, holistic approaches to empirical assessment of national problems and prospects. Learning about, building upon and refining these approaches offers a clear path towards developing bodies of high quality, accessible public information necessary to underpin critical national and international choices in the years ahead.

International and supranational organisations, as well as several OECD countries, have launched initiatives to establish one or more sets of indicators to evaluate the evolution of economic, social and environmental phenomena, as well as the quality of policies undertaken by public authorities. A few countries have launched and implemented comprehensive "national projects", sustained and supported by the highest policy authorities, to produce regular reports or electronic sources of information based on an agreed set of indicators covering economic, social and environmental domains. Nonetheless, such initiatives have developed steadily at the local and state/provincial level, enabled by the spread of web-based information technologies. This has raised the question in even the largest developed countries of whether and how to develop systems of key indicators to measure the country’s position and progress on both an absolute and a relative basis.

We believe that the primary short to medium-term benefits of the Forum for the OECD and its member countries will be the following:

  • New information sources, ideas and knowledge-building, based on a more comprehensive understanding of how the world’s developed democracies are approaching these issues;
  • Accelerated national indicator system development in member countries, based on lessons learned from other countries’ experiences;
  • A continued broadening of the OECD’s involvement with civil society and the maintenance of its leadership position on issues of international information and policy analysis;
  • An enhanced understanding of how information and knowledge-based systems and cultures are developing in 21st century democracies;
  • The potential for a more advanced level of policy dialogue on key issues and enhanced relationships among member countries because of the comprehensive and holistic nature of discussions on national progress.
  • Involvement of key non-members countries (China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia) to promote the development of high quality and internationally comparable statistics, as well as of a culture of evidence-based decision-making.

More tangible medium to long-term benefits might include:

  • Identifying key "gaps" in public information at both the national and international levels. Such gaps may come in three forms: a) knowledge gaps, where there is a clear lack of relevant information of an appropriate quality level to address known problems; b) dissemination gaps, where the knowledge exists, but it has not been properly used by decision makers; and c) misinformation gaps, where existing data may be obsolete based on developing scientific approaches or changed policy objectives, thus distorting behaviour and understanding.
  • More effective problem definition and decision-framing. Eventually, this effort may identify new opportunities to bring shared information resources to bear on specific problems and decisions that helps resolve them in more efficient and effective fashions.

Let me conclude these remarks by stressing how the OECD is committed to helping governments, public and private institutions, as well as individual citizens, to develop an "evidence-based decision making". The Forum on "Statistics, Knowledge and Policy" is a wonderful opportunity to build such a culture and I look forward to welcoming you in Palermo.