A coordinated European approach is needed for Destatis
From Statistics Explained
- Published in Sigma - The Bulletin of European Statistics, 2010/02
Germany has had a national sustainability strategy in place since 2002 and progress is monitored every two years by indicators mostly produced by the German Federal Statistical Office, Destatis. ‘Largely, the German Indicator Report on Sustainable Development matches several recommendations of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission, but more work needs to be done, particularly on issues such as measuring quality of life,’ said Albert Braakmann, Head of Destatis’ National Income, Sector Accounts and Labour Market Division, to Sigma.
According to Mr Braakmann, the Stiglitz Report initiated an important discussion on how to further develop official statistics to create a sustainable and relevant basis for analyses.
‘The Stiglitz Report looks ahead and makes recommendations on how social, economic and environmental issues should be reported statistically to enable official statistics to retain their credibility and provide a basis for political action,’ he said.
‘The Report draws attention to the fact that economic factors do not fully explain social progress and that statistics need to focus more strongly on quality of life, in all its various aspects,’ Mr Braakmann continued.
‘It also stresses that information about sustainability and the environment is an essential part of modern statistics.’
Room for improvement
As far as implementing the proposals of the Stiglitz Commission, Destatis has already made considerable progress when it comes to creating an environmental accounting system. The data and indicators are, for example, used to monitor Germany’s sustainability strategy.
‘Reporting with indicators that are integrated in environmental accounting helps to improve the way in which potential political measures are assessed and therefore also subsequently monitored,’ said Mr Braakmann.
As far as improving economic indicators, Destatis is working on calculating the distribution of income by type of household. The office is also planning another time use survey, which was last conducted in 2001/2002.
When it comes to measuring quality of life, German statisticians are working on an inventory of data available concerning the seven aspects of quality of life recommended by the Report, of both a subjective and an objective nature.
The main challenge is to specify the quality of life indicators at technical level and then to consider how various information might reasonably be aggregated. At the same time, questions of data availability and how any data gaps might be filled need to be taken into consideration.
‘Although a large amount of data is available in some cases, we consider that there is considerable room for further development,’ said Mr Braakmann.
Resources – an issue
In general, German users are in agreement with Destatis’ ‘Stiglitz’ priorities. The Statistical Committee, in which their most important users are represented, recently confirmed Destatis’ plans regarding personal income distribution and the need for another time-use survey. It also welcomed the further consolidation of environmental accounting and sustainability reporting. However, there is of course a discussion about resources for implementing the recommendations.
‘In view of the current drastic cuts in the federal budget, it is not a very good time to significantly extend the official statistical programme. Nevertheless, we would like to invest in areas where further development is necessary for us to be able to provide high-quality data on topics which are relevant to our users,’ said Mr Braakmann.
‘If our users consider implementation of the recommendations of the Stiglitz Commission to be a priority, the necessary resources must also be provided to permit investment in implementation. This may take the form of additional funding or of cutting down or eliminating lower-priority tasks,’ he continued.
Mr Braakmann also underlined that users need to take into account that setting up new statistical surveys or changing existing ones requires legislation in Germany. This means a certain amount of time would need to be set aside for this purpose.
‘Furthermore, Germany is a federal country in which surveys are decentralised, in principle, which means that more coordination is needed than in countries in which statistics are managed by a central body,’ Mr Braakmann said.
Comparison with other countries increasingly important
In Mr Braakmann’s view, the recommendations of the Stiglitz Commission could, in principle, be implemented on a purely national basis, but the European perspective, which specifically means comparing the situation in one’s own country with the situation in other countries, is becoming increasingly important.
‘It is therefore necessary to discuss and jointly determine definitions and indicators at EU level to avoid comparing totally different things. A further advantage of a common approach is that it enables the experience of individual Member States to be shared. There is no need to reinvent the wheel; on the contrary, we can learn from the experience of others and develop common procedures as best practice,’ Mr Braakmann concluded.
Further Eurostat information
- SIGMA - The Bulletin of European Statistics, 02/2010: GDP & Beyond; Focus on measuring economic development and well-being
- Sustainable development in the European Union - 2009 monitoring report of the EU sustainable development strategy
- GDP and Beyond: Measuring progress in a changing world (Commission Communication COM final 433/2009)