Measuring and fostering the progress of African societies
Why measure and foster the progress of African societies?
There is a good deal of interest among Africans in the Global Project. Many of those we have spoken to agree that, by tracking those aspects of African progress that Africans see as important, progress measures will help prevent Africa making some of the mistakes other countries have made as they ‘developed’. A well constructed set of progress measures can ensure African societies will not lose sight of the characteristics of their way of life that they wish to maintain, and so better avoid some of the social and environmental problems that many ‘developed’ countries now face. Social capital is one example of an aspect of wellbeing that is often not tracked using traditional statistics but is often seen as an important asset and a potentially fragile one.
Aspects of social capital can be very strong in some African societies and need to be measured if they are to be protected: but these aspects of wellbeing are often not well measured. As the noted African thinker Dr Allioune Sall has pointed out, exercises in measuring progress should be seen as an effort to help communities to build a “progress society”: a society in which the future corresponds to citizens’ aspirations and one in which they can take the right decisions to help achieve the future they desire. But to undertake national studies we need national teams –teams that involve the whole community who jointly define and measure progress. The Global Project’s work on measuring and fostering the progress of African societies seeks to help.
“African societies, like any other societies indeed, have to measure progress. But more importantly they have to define what is meant by progress. They have to hold a dialogue in a way that has not been done before” Pali Lehohla (Director General of Statistics South Africa).
“Why is it important to focus on the future and progress? The future, unlike the past and the present, is something that can be changed. And the future is where we will all spend the rest of our lives” Dr. Allioune Sall (Executive Director of the African Futures Institute).
The Global Project and Regional Groups
The Global Project aims are to better co-ordinate the worldwide work in the measuring progress field and to encourage discussion about what progress means for different societies and the key statistics needed to measure that progress. The Global Project is establishing regional groups to help take the project forward and they will be a key part of the project’s ne twork of networks. Groups are being established in Africa, the Arab region, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, the OECD countries and elsewhere.
Each regional group will decide its own work program. But in general regional groups will undertake work that is relevant for the region and requires the development of better statistics. The regional groups will contribute, through research, to recommendations on how to measure specific aspects of societal progress. Each group will be a forum for discussion and co-ordination as well as a two-way conduit through which the views of the region can influence the overall program of the global project, and the global project can report back to the region on what is happening elsewhere.
What has Happened So Far in Africa?
Work is already well underway to establish an African Regional Group , and the project has been discussed several times in Africa .
In January 2007 a conference in Rwanda was arranged by the OECD and PARIS21, in partnership with Statistics South Africa and the Rwandan Statistics Office. 37 African countries attended, along with delegates from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the World Bank, the World Health Organisation, Afristat, SESTRIC and others, to discuss “What is Progress and How to Measure It”.
Delegates expressed strong support for the development of national sets of progress measures. And they noted there was value in countries designing their own sets of progress measures for themselves that could engage a wide group of stakeholders in their construction, reflect national views of progress and be culturally appropriate.
In Addis Ababa, last May, a Declaration for the ‘Creation of an African Working Group to Develop Better Measures of Progress’, was signed by 23 representatives of African National Statistical Office affirming their commitment to measuring and fostering the progress of their societies. They recognized is the importance of the work for Africa but that considerable effort is needed in many areas to take this work forward. And so they felt that the creation of a working group for Africa would be an important step.
In September 2007 a meeting in Tunis discussed the coordination of statistical capacity building work in Africa. Representatives of the AfDB, UNECA, the African Union Commission (AUC), as the Statistician General of Statistics South Africa agreed to begin a project on Measuring and Fostering Progress of African Societies, to improve the measurement of the progress of African societies. The AfDB agreed to become the regional coordinator of the project.
Plans for the future
In December 2007, during the 3rd Africa Symposium on Statistical Development conference in Accra, Ghana, a session was devoted to discussing the plans for the regional group in more detail. Discussions continued in Addis Ababa in January during a special session at the STATCOM meeting. Dr Allioune Sall, led the discussion – as Executive Director of the African Futures Institute he has run highly consultative futuring projects in about 30 African countries to develop a shared view of what the future might look like.
His presentation noted that progress is multidimensional and can be considered in different ways according to one’s perspectives, but that it comprises economic progress, as well as social, political, environmental, cultural and technological themes. He was convinced of the importance of the usefulness of fora for discussing progress. A lively discussion followed and the AfDB is talking the lead in establishing a working group comprising statisticians, policy-makers and other prominent African’s together to discuss the key information necessary for measuring and fostering African progress, focusing on those concerns that are important for Africa.
The project will see Africans discussing what progress means for Africa and the key statistics needed to measure it.. In so doing they can discuss as a society – and then measure - what is most important to their wellbeing.
The Global Project
In May 2007 more than 20 senior African statisticians signed a declaration in Addis Ababa supporting the aims of the global project.