Statistics in development cooperation - supporting National Strategies for Development of Statistics implementation

This article is part of a set of background articles providing an ‘outline of knowledge’ of international statistical cooperation between the European Union (EU) and developing countries, for non-statisticians needing to deal with statistics in development programmes and projects. The outline serves as an entry point and introduction to the much more detailed Eurostat publication 'Guide to statistics in European Commission development cooperation', downloadable in PDF format in English, French and Spanish (further down referred to as 'the Guide').

Many developing countries have weak statistical systems and mechanisms for measuring results. Good, reliable statistics are essential for measuring progress in reaching development goals and provide essential information about the effectiveness of policies and programmes. They help governments improve their policies and to be transparent and accountable about the delivery of development results. Reliable statistics are a key element towards better measurement, monitoring and management of the results of development assistance.

The preparation of a National Strategy for the Development of Statistics (NSDS) is an essential step in improving the capacity of statistical systems. This is an important mechanism for coordinating financial and technical assistance to statistics in accordance with national priorities. NSDS and the associated implementation and financing programmes lead towards more coordinated financing for statistics and bring financial support from donors together in a coherent and consistent framework. This article presents actors and instruments supporting NSDS implementation.

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Implementation of the NSDS at national level

Generally, commitment to medium-term support for strengthening statistical capacity is required both from the country's decision makers and from its aid partners (see the article on advocacy). Statistical capacity building includes ‘human’, ‘technical’ as well as ‘organisational’ capacity building.

  • As national budgets are often insufficient, financial support is often required (see also the article on budget support). There should be close communication between government and its development partners, e.g. through a long-term coordination body to draw up a consistent funding strategy and monitoring its implementation.
  • Staff numbers, skills and motivation are vital; salaries are the largest cost of producing statistics. Statistical staff must be able to implement a multi-year action plan.
  • The organisational framework must be in place, including the legal framework and cooperation with line ministries, business federations and other key statistics users.
  • A national mechanism should be set up to oversee NSDS implementation.

The NSDS should be reviewed and adjusted at mid-term. The final assessment of the NSDS and its implementation provide key input to the next NSDS.

Guide examples and practical information

  • C.6 How to bring assistance to statistics

International support to NSDS implementation

PARIS21’s Knowledge Base has a special section on ‘Implementing strategies’, containing key documents on NSDS implementation.

Coordination between donors, as well as coordination between donors and the national government is vital to assure efficient use of resources in accordance with the key priorities of the NSDS. Key information sources in this context are:

  1. PARIS21’s Global directory of partners in statistical capacity development gives updated information on the overall goals and objectives of development partners, as well as their main areas of intervention;
  2. The Partner report on the support to statistics (PRESS) presents current and planned commitments of over 100 donors, by donor, statistical area and recipient country/region;
  3. UNECE’s Database of international statistical activities (DISA) presents the planned work in international statistics in the UNECE region over the coming year.

PARIS21 is a key actor in supporting design and implementation of NSDS in developing countries. The whole process of developing and implementing NSDS is summarised in the booklet “The NSDS Approach in a Nutshell”.

The PARIS21 Secretariat:

  • Supports countries in NSDS design, implementation and monitoring (roadmaps, action plans, validation workshops, resource mobilisation, mid-term reviews, drafting of advocacy documents, etc.)
  • Encourages the establishment of dialogue mechanisms between actors of the national statistical system (e.g., national statistical councils) and between government and international donors.
  • Provides on-demand advisory services in statistical legislation, national statistical councils, training.
  • Provides specific support to fragile/crisis states and small island developing states.
  • Shares information on experiences from other regions in designing and implementing NSDSs.

To develop and implement NSDS, PARIS21 has supported a peer review mechanism, facilitating south-south learning in statistical development. This activity is now carried out by the African Union Commission. The focus of the peer reviews is on governance of the national statistical system (NSS), its organisation, strategic planning, service to users, funding, and sustainability. The basis is:

The African Development Bank supports African countries, financially and technically, to develop or update their NSDSs. The process is intended to ensure that African statistics systems are improved to international standards and that countries are able to provide statistics to support development policy decision-making processes, including monitoring of poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSP) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

European Commission support to NSDS implementation

Support to statistics can be applied through any of the various types of instrument used in European Commission development cooperation.

  • Classic projects focussed on statistics tend to create large demands on European Commission management time, relative to the size of the project. Nevertheless, they are still used where there is no alternative.
  • Sector-wide action programmes: a programme-based approach applied to a particular sector, supporting a sector development programme; in the case of statistics, an NSDS.
    • A sector-wide programme for statistics may be part of a wider government reform. The aim is to improve the statistical and analytical capacity in key ministries. The approach may involve general reform of the statistical function, including capacity building.
    • SWAps for other sectors (e.g. education, health, agriculture) may contain a statistical element. This is perhaps the more common of the two approaches. In large scale programmes, 2–5% of project resources should be reserved for statistics and making sure it is used for monitoring the policy supported.
  • Budget support programmes typically have a capacity building component that can be mobilised to support the strengthening of statistical systems, either through project modality, technical assistance or pooled funding (see article on budget support).

Eurostat's objective in development statistics cooperation is to support EU external relations policies by providing appropriate and focused statistical technical assistance. For countries covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), Eurostat's objective is to support the development of their statistical systems with a view to providing a basic set of harmonised data that meet the European statistical system (ESS) requirements.


  • Provides advisory service to the European Commission external services, in particular to EU delegations.
  • Advises national statistical institutes and regional organisations of the European Commission's development partners, with the agreement of the relevant external service.
  • Advises on the preparation of strategy papers, indicative programmes and annual reports.

Guide examples and practical information

  • C.7.3 Providing European Commission support for statistics
  • C.7.4 European Commission types of action in statistics
  • Box 7.2 Action points for statistics interventions
  • Box 7.3 Action points for system-wide statistics interventions
  • Box 7.4 Action points for sector level interventions for strategy development
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