This time last year, soon after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and shook up the world, ESCAP launched the Asia-Pacific Data Integration Community of Practice. The Community was established in response to a Committee on Statistics decision in 2018 to provide a virtual platform for collaboration, sharing knowledge, experience and learning. The launch was serendipitous. With the COVID-19 pandemic challenging our traditional ways of work, the Community of Practice served as an excellent approach to minimize business disruption.
The impact of COVID-19 has left us reminiscing about the good old days of face-to-face meetings. However the Community was already substituting physical meetings for more cost-effective and frequent get-togethers involving a broader audience. This online collaboration was celebrated at the recent Stats Café to mark its 1st anniversary.
From its early beginnings last year until today, the Community has greatly expanded. Now with more than 270 members from over 40 countries and different international bodies, and with more joining all the time. So far, 25 meetings, four Asia-Pacific Stats Café sessions, and two regional workshops have been conducted online with additional exchange and communication through a wiki-like technology-based platform.
Why do we need a Data Integration Community of Practice?
Quality, timely, reliable, and disaggregated data are key to measuring the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2021, the latest flagship publication from ESCAP, points out that 80 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators in the Asia-Pacific region have insufficient data to measure progress, while 39 indicators remain with no data.
Moreover, the report revealed that disaggregated data are only available for 27 indicators in the region. These data gaps add impetus for the statistical Community in Asia and the Pacific to take steps to fill them. Data integration is one such step, linking and combining data from diverse sources and producing integrated datasets which make more meaningful, cost-effective and valuable information available than single data sources alone. Therefore, data integration can render solutions to produce and improve data and statistics for measuring the SDG indicators.
However, challenges to success exist. Data integration calls for a range of technical and institutional capacities, ranging from appropriate coordination and collaboration mechanisms among stakeholders to the skills needed to deal with data issues. Each data integration exercise may introduce unique challenges that require tailored solutions. Nonetheless, there are still common solutions for shared problems, which makes experience sharing even more valuable.
By facilitating knowledge and experience sharing, the Community sheds light on data integration requirements and needs and showcases how different countries and agencies tackle the various challenges. Through its online platform and regular virtual meetings, the Community offers its members the opportunity to be part of an expert network that can discuss relevant topics and access case studies from countries and development agencies, along with meeting notes and presentations about related events.
Asia-Pacific Guidelines to Data Integration for Official Statistics
With invaluable contributions from members, the Community developed regional guidelines on data integration to serve as a resource for countries when implementing initiatives.
The Asia-Pacific Guidelines to Data Integration for Official Statistics were adapted from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) Guide. The Guidelines benefitted from insights of Community members and participants of two rounds of regional workshops on implementing data integration in Asia and the Pacific. They were also informed by results of the Asia-Pacific Data Integration Capacity Assessment Survey, conducted from September to October 2020. Key findings from the survey reveal the need for capacity building and enabling the institutional environment for data integration.
The Guidelines provide an overview of data integration, review requirements and challenges of integrating data for producing official statistics, introduce methods and tools, highlight the importance of communicating data integration and present relevant examples from the Asia-Pacific region. They also provide practical advice and relevant information for statistical organizations to implement or advance data integration activities.
Working together towards a common vision
The Community proved the words of Halford E. Luccock -- No one can whistle a symphony; it takes a whole orchestra to play it. Success would not happen without many contributions and commitments from Community members. But this is just the beginning of a long journey. Strategic efforts to fill data gaps are urgently needed to achieve success together in meeting the ambitions of 2030 Agenda.
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