This piece was originally published on JIPS' website.

Ever since a week full of international meetings on indicator frameworks at the end of March 2019, I am left reflecting on the issue of statistical capacity building, or more specifically on capacity building to improve data on forced displacement.

Data – or statistics – are critical building blocks to improve response in displacement crises and to enable real progress on international commitments and measure our success in doing so. Yet time and again, voices cry out for capacity development to help make this a reality and we all know there are no quick fixes to this. Especially when it comes to challenging data subjects, such as forced displacement.

Attending, in an observer capacity, recent meetings of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs, see our article on the 8th meeting and the event page on its 9th meeting) and the first preparatory meeting for the 2019 Global Refugee Forum, this conundrum became apparent.


The aspiration of the 2030 Agenda to “leave no-one behind” is reflected in the monitoring efforts of countries and the work of the IAEG-SDGs, primarily through the provision of disaggregated data. If we cannot ‘see’ vulnerable groups in our data, how can we effectively include them in development programming and give them the attention they deserve?

This commitment is cemented in the 2030 Agenda itself. But it is also integrated into the indicator framework with a number of indicators and targets directly referencing specific population groups, whether by sex, age, disability status, location (urban/rural), employment status, etc. Furthermore, through the IAEG-SDGs efforts on data disaggregation in collaboration with custodian agencies and various multi-stakeholder constituencies, the level of ambition extends beyond what has been included in the framework explicitly.


Migrants and forcibly displaced persons are specifically mentioned in the 2030 Agenda (“migratory status”) and have been integrated into the disaggregation work stream based on efforts of two Expert Groups: the Expert Group Meeting on Improving Migration Statistics in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Expert Group on Refugee and IDP Statistics (EGRIS).

However, the call for inclusion of these groups, particularly when it comes to refugees and IDPs, is quickly met with the very real challenges related to limited capacity and over-burdened statistical systems.

In a similar vein, at the first preparatory meeting for the Global Refugee Forum on March 29, 2019, the same concern became apparent through the discussion around indicators to measure progress on implementing the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR).

Many of these concerns are of course well-placed and well-recognized. Strengthening statistics on populations who, in many contexts, are not currently included in national statistical systems is already a tall order. When accounting for the operational, technical, and political hurdles that are common in displacement settings and the wider context regarding the already heavy demands of statistical offices, the ambition starts to look more like an aspiration than an achievable goal.


It is widely recognized that making effective use of the SDG monitoring framework requires strengthening national statistical capacities, building new ones, and developing relevant standards and tools (IAEG-SDGs’ background document from March 2019). This will be helpful to generate high quality data that can inform effective action as well as enable monitoring of progress of both the SDGs and the GCR objectives.

However, capacity building takes significant and sustained political will, mutual interest, technical cooperation, donor support, and time. It requires long-term investment and cooperation. Given that it is notoriously difficult to measure its impact and therefore justify and refine continued engagement over time, statistical capacity building does not always attract the attention it needs.

In addition, while capacity building is difficult enough to realize on mainstream, uncontroversial topics, it becomes all the more challenging when the data in question relates to population groups or socioeconomic phenomena that are inherently sensitive in nature such as forced displacement.


There are of course various efforts underway that focus on building statistical capacity in the framework of the SDGs – such as UNSD’s programs, Paris 21, the Dubai Declaration, and various regional and bilateral initiatives. There are also some specific initiatives that focus on statistics of refugees and IDPs or are making dedicated efforts to integrate these population groups into broader programs, including:

  • The work of the Expert Group on Refugee and IDP Statistics, which recently completed International Recommendations on Refugee Statistics. The group is currently developing International Recommendations on IDP Statistics and a comprehensive Compilers Manual to provide guidance for national statistical institutions and other key partners to support implementation. Looking forward, the group is working to raise funds to support related capacity building activities directly.
  • The soon to be established Joint Data Center by the World Bank and UNHCR, which aims to improve demographic and socioeconomic data on refugees and other forcibly displaced populations, and associated recent joint analytical work by the two institutions in the Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad Basin, and the Middle East.
  • Peer-to-peer cooperation, for example between Statistics Norway and the State Statistical Service of Ukraine, inspired by the work of EGRIS on IDP statistics and building on a long tradition of capacity building from Statistics Norway’s Development Cooperation.
  • UNHCR’s intention to join the Intersecretariat Working Group on Household Surveys, which is mandated by the UN Statistical Commission to foster improvements in the scope and quality of social statistics through better harmonization and coordination of household surveys.
  • The World Bank’s training on Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS)’s conflict module, which recently included a focus on forced displacement and provides technical assistance to national statistical offices in the design and implementation of LSMS surveys in post-conflict settings.

Enhanced efforts, however, are needed – and fast – to help join the dots between broader statistical capacity building efforts and those focused on the inclusion of forcibly displaced persons in national statistics. This will in turn benefit the inclusion of forced displacement in the SDGs and the monitoring the progress of the GCR objectives.

At JIPS, we are working in various ways to contribute to these efforts under the third goal of our 2018-2020 strategy. Besides our involvement in the EGRIS as lead of the sub-working group on IDP statistics and our contribution to the IAEG-SDGs meetings, we also invest in capacity building through our field support, often working closely with statistical offices and systems in displacement-affected countries and regions (e.g. IraqHondurasEl SalvadorColombiaKosovo, but also in new exercises such as in Nigeria).

We also encourage participation of national statisticians in our global and regional trainings (e.g. from Colombia, Libya, Cameroon and Chad in PCTs). For the fall of 2019, we are also planning to host a conference on the subject to bring key stakeholders together and outline recommendations.