In 2003, the IMF began a campaign to raise public awareness of the importance of high-quality statistics and the role of the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS) in developing national statistical systems. Wipada Soonthornsima, Chief of the IMF’s General Data Dissemination System Unit, reports here on the impact of National Awareness Seminars in Anglophone Africa.
It is difficult to overemphasize how critical reliable data are, Immanuel Ngatizeko, Director General of National Planning Commission of Namibia, observed at a December 10 National Awareness Seminar in Windhoek. Statistics, he said, speak all languages, affect all policies, and touch all aspects of people’s lives. Policymakers are particularly indebted to timely, high-quality statistics, he added, to help guide their work, assess the impact of their policies, and change direction when needed.
It was just this sense of the power of high-quality data that prompted the IMF’s Statistics Department to launch an outreach effort to raise public awareness of the role of statistics and spotlight the contribution of the GDDS in developing effective national statistical systems. The National Awareness Seminars also encourage the public to secure the information it needs to better understand and evaluate government performance.
Promotion of statistical information lies at the heart of the GDDS and its goals of helping participating countries meet international standards and disseminate timely and reliable economic, financial, and sociode-mographic data to the public.
Statistics, particularly in developing countries, often do not receive the recognition and the priority they deserve. As a first step toward remedying this, the IMF and the World Bank, with the financial support of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), helped countries launch a series of awareness seminars under the GDDS project for Anglophone Africa in May 2003. To date, seminars have been held in seven countries: Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, and Zambia.
The most recent seminar took place in Windhoek, under the joint sponsorship of the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Bank of Namibia. It featured a progress report on the country’s efforts to strengthen its statistics, as well as discussions on the role of the GDDS in statistical capacity building and poverty reduction, and IMF initiatives in statistical work programs. As is typical ofthe series, the day-long event brought together a wide range of participants—producers and users of economic and sociodemographic statistics from government agencies, academia, the private sector, donor agencies, international organizations, the media, and the public at large—to discuss steps to improve the quality of statistics, broaden the availability of statistics to the public, and foster closer cooperation between producers and users.
The Windhoek session was unique in the seminar series in including GDDS coordinators from 12 of the 14 countries involved in the project. In separate workshops on December 9 and 11, coordinators exchanged views and shared experiences on the role of the GDDS in national statistical systems and in technical assistance efforts.