Statistics and Data Directorate

Measuring Progress: Does it make a Difference for Policy-Making and Democracy - Closing remarks by Angel Gurría


Closing remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy
Istanbul, 27-30 June 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, these four days have been immensely stimulating. We have learned a great deal from the speakers and panellists and the intense interaction outside the sessions added another dimension to the Forum.

On the opening day we discussed why measuring progress makes such a big difference to policy making and democracy, and raised a number of questions that should be answered. 

I asked if we need a detonator, a catalyst for this work. Something that brings together the many initiatives and the thousands of people working on them. A rallying point which would help us develop and share best practices, and openly discuss issues of common concern.

I asked if there is a need to assist those who lack the resources and know-how to develop their own sets of progress measures.

I asked whether we need a single global platform where citizens can easily find reliable and trusted data on their progress and compare themselves with others.

And, last but not least, I asked what are the next steps.

Three days later we have some answers. This conference has built some solid foundations for a global initiative to take this work forward.

First, around the world there are indeed thousands of people working to measure progress. They need a place (be it real or virtual) in which they can develop and share best practices, and discuss issues of common concern. We can provide it. We must provide it.

Second, this work is clearly important to both developed and developing countries. But some societies lack the resources and know-how to undertake this work. And that is why, organisations like Paris Twenty One – the Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st century – work hard to help countries to build statistical capacity. I’m sure Paris Twenty One would agree that developing a core set of progress measures can strengthen the dialogue between those who use and those who produce statistics. And it is just this type of dialogue that is advocated by the many National Strategies for the Development of Statistics.

And third, I think we should begin to work together to build a single platform to monitor progress. A system that would allow each and every citizen to see the progress in his or her society and compare themselves with others.  This has the power to make quite radical changes to the world’s democratic processes.

But how do we go about achieving this? That of course is the subject of this closing session.  You have seen this morning the Istanbul Declaration, which the OECD promoted and I have agreed with representatives from the European Commission, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the United Nations, the UNDP, and the World Bank.  It constitutes an important first step towards a global initiative. We are ready to work with partners all over the world to take this forward.

What practical steps should we take? Several ideas come to mind:

  1. I believe that we should encourage each nation or region to design its own sets of progress measures, taking into account good practices developed around the world. But at the same time we should work to maximise comparability of indicators between societies through internationally agreed statistical standards. Of course, this is not easy, but this balance needs to be struck.
  2. We must develop better ways to bring indicators to the public. Hans Rosling has just shown us some ways to do that. We need to work with his foundation and with others to develop the tools that will engage citizens. Indicators of progress can tell some fascinating stories; they increase accountability; build knowledge, change behaviour and underpin democratic governance.
  3. We will promote research on some of the new and complex areas that are clearly relevant for progress, like social cohesion, subjective well-being, good governance and others.
  4. We will produce a handbook to measure progress that will bring together the world’s best practices and provide a tool-kit for those wishing to embark on a project;
  5. And we are ready to work with others to build a website – using the interactive philosophy of Web two point zero - that will allow people to undertake and share their own analyses of progress with the rest of the world. A ‘’Wikipedia’’, or a “YouTube”, for progress.
  6. We will foster the creation of regional groups so that those working on this can discuss with others in their region – be they in Latin America, Africa, Asia, or OECD member countries. Such exchanges will not only enrich the knowledge of the respective region but will also flow – via the global project – to benefit the whole world.  Inclusiveness is the name of the game. 

I stress that we are not trying to enforce one single view of progress in the world. We should celebrate the differences in history and culture that give rise to our different notions of progress. But listening to the debate here, I am struck by the overwhelming similarity in what we all consider as progress, from Bhutan to the United States, from Nigeria to New Zealand. Indeed this process could turn out to be an invaluable point of reference in the run up to 2015, when the existing set of Millennium Development Goals will be reviewed.

It is vitally important for all our societies to develop a broader understanding of progress provided we can measure it.  It is a unique opportunity to improve the ways in which our policies are made and it can breathe new life into democratic processes. These are worthy, ambitious goals but they are achievable, so long as all of you – each and everyone one of you – participate.

So, welcome to this exciting, far reaching joint endeavour to measure progress and wellbeing and in so doing to achieve progress and wellbeing for all.

Thank you.