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Report on the ESDS International Annual Conference 2009

Fifth Annual ESDS International Conference

On Monday 30th November 2009, ESDS International held their 5th successive annual conference at the Institute of Materials in London with a theme of ‘Real Data – Real World’.

The event was well attended with participants attracted by a packed programme with a strong focus on Inter-Governmental Organisation data providers.

Keith Cole, the Director of Mimas at the University of Manchester introduced the day and handed over to Professor Denise Lievesley of King’s College, London who chaired the opening data provider session.

Nick Dopuch from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began the session with a talk which focused on the IMF’s new data initiatives developed in response to the global financial crisis. He advised us a few changes to the IMF’s data portfolio with the discontinuation of the print version of the Government Finance Statistics (the online version is still available), the merger of the International Financial Statistics (IFS) Supplement into the main IFS database and a number of new databases. Particularly of note are the Principal Global Indicators (PGI) developed as a joint undertaking of the Inter-Agency Group on Economic and Financial Statistics (Inter-Agency Group). Launched in response to the on-going financial and economic crisis it presents data for the Group of 20 (G-20) to facilitate the monitoring of economic and financial developments for these systemically important economies. Although not yet a queriable database, the PGI regularly and recently updated indicators are freely available in csv, xls and pdf format online.

Nick went on to describe the Financial Soundness Indicators (FSI) http://www.imf.org/external/np/sta/fsi/eng/fsi.htm database which was developed in response to the need for better tools to assess the strengths and vulnerabilities of the financial system and the Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) http://www.imf.org/external/np/sta/cdis/index.htm which measures the stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) by source (counterpart economy). He concluded his presentation with a description of plans for further development in IMF electronic data dissemination, with the continuation of work on the Statistical Data and Metadata Exchange (SDMX) initiative to foster standards for exchange of statistical data and the IMF Economic Data Dissemination (EDD) Project – which will result in a replacement for the current http://www.imfstatistics.org with a more user focused EDD application.

Toby Green of the Organisation for Economic Coorporation and Development (OECD) then gave a very interesting presentation asking ‘where is the data?. He stated that data is not currently cited in any adequate or consistent way which makes finding that data in order to challenge or further the research very difficult indeed. Toby equated datasets to scholarly dogs’ ‘lost sheep’ and stressed the need for dataset citation to be included in bibliographies so it forms part of the scholarly record in the same way as journal articles. Toby went on to demonstrate the simple dataset citing functionality included in OECD iLibrary http://www.oecdilibrary.org/oecd/ - a successor to SourceOECD, OECD iLibrary is an online library for OECD books, papers and statistics and the gateway to the OECD’s analysis and data.

Shyam Upadhyaya of United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) took the podium next empathizing with Toby Green about the need for accurate and consistent data citation. He then described a new Industrial Statistical Database for Structural Analysis - INDSTAT2. Shyam explained that despite the fact that UNIDO have long since maintained and regularly updated international industrial statistical databases (INDSTAT4 and IDSB) covering detailed business structure statistics from 1963 onwards for over 180 countries, these data are not fully comparable over the years due to the periodic revision of the International Statard for Industrial Classification (ISIC). He described how the INDSTAT2 database with a single classification system for all years has been developed by UNIDO in order to meet data users demands to enable them to analyse long-term structural change.

Denise Lievesley thanked the first three data provider speakers for their interesting and informative presentations and used the opportunity to appeal to the data users in the audience to contact her (at http://www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/sspp/about/hos.html) with any European data needs in her capacity as a member of the European Statistical Advisory Board – which has been established to contribute to the development of statistical information policy and to the rationalisation of the production of statistical data at the European level.

Dr Celia Russell of ESDS International chaired the rest of the data provider session and introduced our fourth speaker Jean-Yves Garnier from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Jean-Yves described how the ‘Real Energy World and Real Energy Data’ posed ‘Real Challenges for Energy Statisticians’. His presentation focussed on actions taken by the IEA alongside other organisations to improve energy statistics, for example with the production of the Energy Statistics Manual (http://www.iea.org/textbase/nppdf/free/2004/statistics_manual.pdf) in collaboration with the Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat) to facilitate the understanding of energy statistics and the Joint Oil Data Initiative (JODI) http://www.jodidata.org/. Following the unusually high volatility in the oil market during the 1990s which was aggravated by the lack of transparency and reliability of oil statistics, efforts to improve the availability and consistency of oil data began by the IEA and other organisations such as APEC, Eurostat, OLADE, OPEC etc. and the result is the JODI database. More than 90 countries, representing more than 90 percent of global Oil supply and demand, submit data to JODI covering production, refining, demand and stocks of seven product categories: crude oil, LPG, gasoline, kerosene, diesel oil, fuel oil and total oil. Jean-Yves concluded his presentation by stressing that the real world needs more and better data which can only be achieved by harmonization and cooperation but that policy makers should understand the challenges faced by their statisticians.

Anne Yates and Caroline Knowles then jointly presented on a very different type of project, ‘Young Lives’ (www.younglives.org.uk) a long-term international research project investigating the changing nature of childhood poverty by tracking the changing lives of 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India (in the state of Andhra Pradesh), Peru and Vietnam over a 15-year period in order to: i) improve understanding of the causes and consequences of childhood poverty and to examine how policies affect children’s well-being, ii) inform the development and implementation of policies and practices that will reduce childhood poverty.

The audience was treated to a live demonstration of the Young Lives ‘Virtual Village’ an interactive visualisation tool which brings the data to life - http://dh83.qeh.ox.ac.uk/younglives/virtual-village/. It takes some basic facts and figures from the Young Lives survey to present a ‘typical’ community in each of the study countries. A visitor to the village can move around the community and visit the school, the hospital, the market, a typical home, etc. and view related data. Anne and Caroline highlighted the fact that this survey collects both quantitative and qualitative data to build a rich and detailed picture of how childrens lives and livelihoods change over time and provides credible, authoritative evidence to help policy-makers analyse and address the challenges they face in alleviating childhood poverty.

Jose De Buerba from the World Bank then did a short presentation on their new World Development Indicators mapping tool ‘World Statistical Mapping’ which is currently in development in collaboration with Harper Collins.

The morning session culminated with a very interesting and lively discussion panel where participants were given the opportunity to ask questions of the data providers. These included:

  • How do you cite a dynamic dataset (i.e. the dataset may have been revised so will not include the same data making reproducing research difficult)?
  • What changes in the types and number of users have the data providers noticed now that the data is more easily available?
  • Are the new visualization methods ployed by the data providers intended to appeal to the policy makers?
  • Following the Stiglitz report published in Sept 09 what do you as data providers think should be used to replace GDP as a measure of a nations progress?

A poster session over lunch was followed by a ‘Pecha Kucha’ international data academic research session – this involved each of the nine speakers presenting 20 slides, each displayed for 20 seconds. It was a very fast moving and interesting session with researchers speaking on topics such as 'Twin Deficits: New Evidence from Arab World’, Financial Risks and Banking Sector Performance' and 'Financial Dollarization and European Union Membership'.

A session on 'International Collaboration' chaired by Jackie Carter concluded the day. Four session were presented, the first by Kristine Doronenkova from the ESRC who talked about the ESRC’s Initiative on Collaborative Analysis of Microdata Resources which is funding 12 Pathfinder projects exploring Economic Restructuring, Higher Education and Social Equality in UK, Brazil and India. Three of these projects had the opportunity to disseminate information about what they will be doing (the projects run from April 2010 for 12 months). The first, presented by Tiziana Leone, a demographer from LSE Health was on inequalities in access to health care in Brazil and India. This was followed by Wiji Arulampalam an econometrician from Warwick whose project is looking at women’s autonomy and the nutritional status of children in India. Finally Kate Purcell, a sociologist also from Warwick presented on their project which is assessing the impact of Higher Education expansion on economic restructuring, occupational change and access to opportunities in Brazil and India. All three of these projects are working with interdisciplinary teams and with both micro and macro data, and following a mixed methods approach to the research. The opportunity to present at the conference was welcomed by all.

Slides, abstracts, audio and video clips will be made available at www.esds.ac.uk/international/news/conf2009.asp and further information about previous annual conferences including reports, programmes and conference proceedings can be found at www.esds.ac.uk/international/news/conf.asp.


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