Plugging the Gaps in Governance Statistics – the Praia Group is ready for the challenge 


By Arvinn Gadgil, Director, UNDP Oslo Governance Centre, and Marie Laberge, Expert Consultant on Governance Statistics 


The multiple crises that the world faces today cannot be resolved without addressing issues of governance, peace and security. Yet, data on SDG16 remains scarce: only 40% of countries have reported data for at least one SDG 16 indicator. It is therefore critical and urgent to plug the data gap on SDG16. And the Praia Group knows how!  


To date, few national statistical offices (NSOs) have invested in the production of governance statistics, for a host of legitimate reasons. For one, they struggle to find internationally recognized methodologies to produce official statistics on specific dimensions of governance, such as Political Participation or Non-Discrimination & Equality. They also wrestle with severe budget cuts in the post-COVID-19 era, which can make it more challenging to start producing new types of statistics. This is creating a dangerous ‘blind spot’ in our information landscape. If policymakers don’t know whether our public institutions are effective and responsive to the needs of everyone, if political leaders don’t have evidence-based assessments of the extent to which people feel they have a say in public decision-making, and the extent to which they trust their leaders, how will they detect flashpoints that can quickly degenerate into civil unrest and violence, if left unaddressed?  


We must address this blind spot if we want to understand the effects of the multiple global crises assailing our economies and societies on human rights, democracy and the rule of law – and try to navigate our way out of them. Governance statistics can help. Even in a time of fiscal constraint, investing in the expertise and systems needed to collect more and better data on prime-time governance issues is a smart long-term investment. Strengthening national governance data infrastructures serves us now and also prepares our systems to better respond to future shocks. 


This is the utmost priority of the Praia Group on Governance Statistics. Created in 2015 by the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC), the Praia Group aims “to contribute to establishing international standards and methods for the compilation of statistics on the major dimensions of governance.”1 In March 2020, the Group published the first-ever Handbook on Governance Statistics. The Handbook was hailed as an important steppingstone towards designing international statistical standards on eight dimensions of governance, namely non-discrimination and equality; participation in political and public affairs; openness; access to and quality of justice; responsiveness; absence of corruption; trust; and safety and security.  


At its 54th session in March 2023, the UN Statistical Commission endorsed a revised Classification of Statistical Activities (CSA) which includes Governance as a new domain of official statistics. This new classification effectively means that Governance is no longer an ‘emerging’ or ‘experimental’ area of statistics but sits squarely on par with economic, social and demographic statistics in the official statistical nomenclature. This is a critical breakthrough, as governments now have a framework to dedicate resources for statistical programmes on Governance and to use official governance statistics to inform the design of their national plans and strategies. International development partners can mobilize technical assistance for governance statistics as part of their support to official statistics at national, regional and global levels. 


The Praia Group brings together NSOs, international agencies and academia to improve methodologies and standardization of governance statistics and to support national statistical offices around the world in implementing those methodologies. It currently focuses on two dimensions of governance where such methodologies are still lacking, namely Participation in Political and Public Affairs (led by Norway), and Non-Discrimination and Equality (led by Finland and Peru). Following a participatory survey design process, model survey questionnaires were developed and volunteer NSOs in 13 countries2 around the word are now taking part in the cognitive testing of these questionnaires.  


The urgency and timeliness of this effort cannot be overstated. At the halfway point towards the deadline for achieving the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations Secretary-General is sounding the alarm. With no progress or even reversals on most SDG indicators, the promise of the 2030 Agenda, to leave no one behind and to secure the rights and well-being of everyone on a healthy, thriving planet, is in peril. The 2030 Agenda acknowledges the crucial importance of SDG16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) both as a development priority in its own right and as an enabler of progress on sustainable development. The multiple crises that the world faces today cannot be resolved without addressing issues of governance, peace and security. Yet, data on SDG16 remains scarce. Only about 40% of countries have reported data for at least one SDG 16 indicator. It is therefore critical and urgent to plug the data gap on SDG16, not just for global reporting, but also to inform the design of integrated policy solutions to these complex challenges. 


In order for the breakthroughs stemming from the Praia Group to have a real impact at the national level, NSOs around the world need to be further empowered to significantly scale up the production of governance statistics. Cognizant of the need to improve measures of progress on governance and to strengthen the evidence for SDG16 as accelerator of the 2030 Agenda, UNDP has been a strong supporter of the Praia Group since its inception. Furthermore, UNDP, UNODC and OHCHR are partnering on the SDG16 Data Insights initiative, a joint effort to strengthen national capacities and increase data production for SDG16 indicators through a standardized, modular and cost-effective SDG16 Survey that countries can deploy either standalone or integrated into existing national data collection instruments.  


There has never been a more opportune time to push the frontiers of governance statistics – and the Praia Group is leading the way.  


For a detailed account of the path-breaking methodological work carried out by the Praia Group on Political Participation and on Discrimination, see this article published by the Statistical Journal of the International Association for Official Statistics (IAOS) in June 2023 (IAOS Volume 39, Issue 2).