International case studies

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ONS international development work pivoted to help partner national statistics offices (NSOs) supply data and analyses governments needed to mitigate the impact. 

The ONS advised on a reorganisation of teams at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), which is has an existing partnership with, enabling it to better support member state NSOs. We supported collaboration between NSOs and UN organisations on the impact of COVID-19 on statistical organisation and mitigation measures enabling the continuation of key outputs including civil registrations data and Consumer Price Indices (CPI). This included advising on the creation of the Africa Statistical System Collaboration Platform which enables NSOs to better collaborate and share best practice. 

In Ghana, the ONS put remote data collection processes in place to enable the continuation of CPI during pandemic restrictions. The ONS also helped Ghana Statistics Service gain a key role in supplying data and expertise to the British High Commission-led epidemiology modelling study that aims to predict the spread of COVID-19.  

In addition, the ONS also published a range of guidance to assist NSOs in beginning their first telephone interviews as well as further guidance for NSOs working from home for the first time. Both were published by UNECA and actively shared with NSOs across the continent. 

High-quality labour market statistics are essential for governments to boost jobs, wages and productivity in low-income countries. Yet, in many parts of the developing world, improvements to labour market statistics are still much needed.

To help address this, the ONS has been working with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO – formerly DfID), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Bank to improve international labour statistics. This also reflected the need for better evaluation of the jobs-related impacts of the various economic development programmes carried out by FCDO and the World Bank.

The ONS then assessed the current situation regarding labour market statistics in Jordan, Ghana and Kenya. This was done as part of ongoing partnerships. The assessments looked particularly at the development requirements for each country’s labour market statistics. These included more detailed statistics on the informal sector and informal employment, which tend to make up the largest part of the employed labour force in those countries.

This assessments also highlighted the need  for national statistical organisations to have more support  with selecting and applying the ILO’s recommendations for data collection. We have since assisted the Ghana Statistical Service with drafting a new strategy for the development of a more comprehensive system of labour statistics. The ONS is contributing to the further development of this strategy during 2021 helping it to reflect international recommendations and best practice where relevant.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we planned to send a campus faculty lecturer and Statistics Canada staff member to Barbados to deliver an intensive week of data science training, with project and mentorship support being provided for the following three months. However, the onset of the pandemic meant these plans were paused for some time. As remote working became the norm, we revisited our discussions, revised the learning needs and discussed a virtual training programme. Through wider discussions with Caribbean national statistics offices (NSOs), we agreed on a reproducible analytical pipeline (RAP) learning pathway in R. The mentoring process offered the lecturers insight on what subject matter had been readily assimilated by the student and which areas learners needed more support in. Mentors practised their coaching skills by assisting their mentees towards effective implementation of their skills, offering reproducible examples and scaffolding so that mentees could effectively apply their learning. Read the full blog.

The ONS and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Data Science Hub was set up in 2019 to promote the use of data science in international development by producing analytical tools and providing training and mentoring in data science to partner organisations. The team’s work applies data science to help low- and middle-income countries work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of our first projects has been to explore the possibility of conducting a cattle census in South Sudan using satellite imagery. Livestock are critical to the livelihoods of millions of South Sudanese, but the current livestock population is largely unknown as the last livestock census was conducted in the 1970s. New cattle estimates would allow a more accurate assessment of the contribution of livestock to South Sudan’s economy. This would be useful to a range of stakeholders including the South Sudanese Government, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Other potential users include the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in providing animal health services, and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) who are keen to understand the role of the livestock economy in driving conflict. Read the full blog.

Road traffic is useful for measuring economic activity as it represents a large proportion of the movement of people and goods, and it can be very timely. However, many countries in the developing world lack regular estimates of road traffic activity. To address this, we applied machine learning techniques to generate estimates of traffic volume using open-source imagery from the satellite Sentinel 2. We were able to spot large vehicles as they appear as a series of blue, green and red pixels. This enabled us to estimate the number of trucks on a stretch of the M1 between Leicester and Sheffield, and part of the main road running from Mombasa to Nairobi in Kenya.

Our new methodology successfully identified large changes following the lockdowns and easing of COVID-19 restrictions throughout 2020. Data from this project also have the potential to be used by governments when making decisions on infrastructure such as improvements to roads, as well as those affecting the import of goods and services. Read the full blog.

The UK takes part in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Expert Fora for Producers and Users of Climate Change-Related Statistics. These have been organised annually since 2015 to serve as a platform for collaboration, sharing ideas and experience, discussing concepts and measurement issues, and identifying areas for development of practical guidance.

The UK is also a recent member of the UNECE Steering Group on Climate Change-Related Statistics (SGCC), which organises the Expert Fora. The Expert Forum is open for all countries and organisations producing or using climate change-related data.

An increasing number of UK government departments and organisations have been engaging with the Expert Fora since their inception:

  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has attended since 2015 and fed into the development of a set of core climate change-related indicators, endorsed by the Conference of European Statisticians in June 2020;
  • Public Health England (PHE) led presentations on the Review of the Hazard Terminology and Classification at the October 2019 and September 2020 Fora and were asked to join the UNECE Task Force on Measuring Hazardous Events and Disasters;
  • and the ONS and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) also led presentations on climate change adaptation at the September 2020 Forum.

Now that the UK has left the EU we are able to negotiate, sign and ratify new trade agreements. Negotiations with partner countries will be underpinned by data and analysis and hence raise issues around international comparability. This includes trade asymmetries where the trade data reported by one country are not the same as the trade reported by the partner country.  For example, UK imports from the US reported by the UK are not the same as US exports to the UK reported by the US.

The Department International Trade (DIT), HM Revenue and Customs and the ONS have been working collaboratively and with specific partner countries to understand what drives these differences. The DIT has also participated in international working party and expert group meetings to influence developments in emerging areas of trade statistics that are inherently difficult to measure, such as digital trade, trade in services by modes of supply and trade asymmetries.

Examples of relevant outputs that the DIT helped to shape and deliver include the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, World Trade Organisation (WTO) and International Monetary Fund’s Handbook on Measuring Digital Trade (the first systematic international effort to define and measure digital trade) and the WTO’s TiSMoS database (the first international database on trade in services by modes of supply).

As many countries are encountering the trend of ageing populations, the need for quality disaggregated statistics beyond the age of 65 is vital for effective policy making. Currently those above 65 are usually treated as one homogeneous group despite often having vastly differing needs depending on age and location.

The Titchfield City Group on Ageing and Age-disaggregated Data (TCGA) was created at the forty-ninth session of the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) in March 2018 where the UK was asked to lead the work. The purpose of the group is to address this statistical gap and establish international standards and methods for the compilation of inclusive statistics and data across all ages. The UK led group has set a challenging timetable to complete this vital work and has divided the work into six priority areas which will be tackled at pace. This work is planned to  be completed by March 2023.

Through the UNECE High-Level Group for the Modernisation of Official Statistics (HLG-MOS), a group of committed chief statisticians are actively steering the modernisation of statistical organisations. Their mission is to work collaboratively to identify trends, threats and opportunities in modernising statistical organisations.

In the space of two years the ONS has positioned itself at the forefront of a successful ongoing project exploring the application of machine learning techniques to official statistical production. The UK has also been selected to sit on the Blue Skies Thinking Network, the ideas factory and steering group for the HLG-MOS.

Read the full blog.

The 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census was the country’s first ever paperless census, with digital technology used during mapping and enumeration. The ONS, with funding from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), supported the census exercise through its partnerships with Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and United Nations Economics Commission for Africa (UNECA). We provided strategic advice and expert technical assistance, particularly in handling the deployment of 170,000 tablet computers to the field for data gathering.

The partnership also supported the development of a central dashboard to monitor and manage incoming census data and report back to senior officials within the Government of Kenya. As a result of this collaboration, the census took place digitally and on time, with headline results produced ahead of schedule.

Working with the SDGs team, we are supporting countries that want to set up their own SDG national reporting platform. The UK is a lead contributor to the development of Open SDG, an open source, multilingual, fully customisable and free-to-reuse SDG-reporting platform. Open SDG is used for the UK SDG data website and has a growing user community including many countries, regions and cities around the world.

We have supported the development of guidance, video tutorials, information and case studies on the Open SDG website to enable other countries to create their own version. We have also directly supported Rwanda, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Lao PDR and Sierra Leone to set up their SDG platforms.

The collection of inclusive data which covers all vulnerable groups is essential to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s ambition of leaving no one behind. The Inclusive Data Charter was set up by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data with support from the ONS and FCDO. The objective is to improve the quality, quantity, financing, and availability of inclusive and disaggregated data as well as the capacity and capability to produce and use it. The ONS and FCDO join international agencies and countries including Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Philippines, Zanzibar and Peru as Champions.

The ONS also provides vital technical support to IDC  champions in both the development and implementation of their inclusive data action plans through a technical advisor embedded in the IDC Secretariat. The support has enabled governments and organisations to take action on inclusive data. For example it has enabled the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (MLSP) in Kenya to develop a robust inclusive data action plan based around improving the collection and use of disability inclusive data.