Plans and reports 2013/9
Institutional Development Cooperation in Statistics Norway
Statistics Norway (SN) has a long history of engaging in development cooperation. Over the last two decades, this cooperation has moved from individual ad hoc assignments to becoming an activity fully integrated in the institution. At the core of these activities today are institutional cooperation projects
Statistics Norway (SN) has a long history of engaging in development cooperation. Over the last two decades, this cooperation has moved from individual ad hoc assignments to becoming an activity fully integrated in the institution. At the core of these activities today are institutional cooperation projects. This mode of providing statistical support to developing partners has developed from two parallel processes:
On the demand side, there has been an increased focus on the importance of statistics in the international development arena. International initiatives like the Millennium Development Goals, the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, and Busan Action Plan for Statistics have stressed the need for broader, better and more accessible statistics from developing countries. Governments and the international community are increasingly requesting statistics to monitor their policies. As a result we have seen increased donor investment in strengthening national statistical systems. On the supply side, Norad challenged Norwegian government institutions to engage in development cooperation in the early 1990’s. SN responded positively by organizing such work in a designated Division for International Development Cooperation.
Official statistics should be produced by the National Statistical Office (NSO) and other official institutions that constitute the National Statistical System. Capacity for production and analysis of statistics is a necessary condition for good governance in a country. Building a national system of statistics and an NSO are however complex tasks that may take decades. An NSO struggling to develop its capacity requires a trustable partner that understands complex relations, and which has a sufficiently long term commitment to work through statistical production processes several times.
When cooperation moves from ad-hoc technical assistance into an institutional cooperation project, it must be properly anchored within both institutions. The initiation of development cooperation often comes from dedicated individuals with strong personal engagement and ability to implement and get results. Institutional cooperation, however, implies a move beyond dependence on such individuals: In order for the project to function independently of the presence of these dedicated individuals, it must be anchored at the very top level in the institution.
Successful design and implementation of cooperation projects rests on a good understanding of the processes around the cooperation. The broad social system, such as national laws, policies, user needs and power relations, defines one’s action space. So do other domestic and international organizations. Statisticians working in SN are experts in statistical methodology, but do normally not have specific competence in developing cooperation. It is thus feasible that SN has a division with statistically knowledgeable staff who specializes in coordination of development projects such as application processes and reporting. This division then recruits the required subject matter experts from the regular SN production divisions.
The design and implementation of an institutional cooperation can be viewed from different angles. Chronologically, the typical stages are: Initiation, planning, implementation and phasing out. In organizational terms there are different stakeholders’, whose roles and relationships in the cooperation need to be clarified. Finally, one must consider the choice of cooperation modalities for the support to yield the most efficient use of human and financial resources.
From practicing two decades of institutional cooperation our main lessons learned are as follows:
- Thorough preparations are crucial. Understanding both the partner’s institution and the national system in which it operates is critical. Sub-projects must be based on the country’s needs for statistics, other stakeholders’ activities, and priorities in the NSDS. The choice of tools for cooperation and estimates for the time and human resources needed rests on knowing the institution’s organization, level of development and capacity building needs. Scarce funding and an eagerness to show early results have often led to weak planning.
- Good flow of information is at the core of success . The importance of cultural awareness has been underestimated in several projects. Most of the practical problems projects face are due to lack of communication or misunderstandings. Long term advisers are crucial to manage information flows, knowing with whom and how to communicate. Through personal contacts, they can follow up after short term missions and translate the local culture of communication back to colleagues in SN.
- Changing environments requires flexible projects . The project set-up must allow for changes along the way. When circumstances change or unexpected problems arise, the strength of a project lies in how able we are to adapt. Keeping focus on results, and being open to adapting activities according to changes, allows for flexible project implementation. The main arena for evaluating progress and adjusting the plans are annual meetings. Norway has been a flexible donor, which has contributed to efficient activities and relevant results.
- Repetition gives sustainable learning . The main aim of our projects is sustainable capacity building. Full takeover by the partner NSO is easier when the production process is repeated, at least annually. Each individual learns better when tasks are repeated, and through frequent repetition, the organization will always host more than one competent individual. Acceptable quality in the production after a partner takeover, is the best criterion for a successful cooperation.
- Users must be involved from the start . Statistics is not an end goal; it is only relevant if it is used. Understanding and working with users of statistics is an indispensable condition to produce statistics that is valuated and found relevant by users.
- SN needs development experts organized in a separate unit. Having statistical expertise is not sufficient to be able to coordinate a large statistical institutional cooperation project in complex surroundings, involving coordination with other relevant parties and participation in international forums. Organizing such development in a designated division assures continuity and institutional ownership to statistical capacity building projects.