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NAY PYI TAW, Myanmar – Trends and progress can only be tracked if the same indicators are used consistently over time and by different data producers. This is crucial to development, because it makes effective planning, monitoring and evaluation possible.

Together with Myanmar’s Central Statistical Organization, UNFPA organized a workshop where stakeholders came together to identify areas where data can be harmonized. The initiative is part of important steps towards tracking progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

The workshop took place in Nay Pyi Taw on 14 February, 2019. At the workshop, Ramanathan Balakrishnan, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar, gave the following speech.

Speech by Ramanathan Balakrishnan, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar, at the Data harmonization workshop in Nay Pyi Taw on 14 February 2019

Director General, U San Myint, Deputy Director General U Than Zaw, representatives from different ministries and departments, development partners, non-government organizations, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, MINGALABAR and Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

For those who may not know me yet, I would like to introduce myself: I am the new Country Representative for UNFPA Myanmar as my predecessor, Ms. Janet Jackson, has retired last year. This will be my 6th week here and first time to meet data producers, statisticians, and data technicians of Myanmar and it’s a great honor to be here with you all.

Right on my first day of work I found out people here are so kind and very accommodating and I am truly grateful for that. And, I am very confident we could all work with harmony.

And speaking of harmony, I came here to talk about data harmonization. As mentioned by the DG, Data Harmonization is very important in achieving high quality statistics for effective planning, progress monitoring, project evaluation and development. We will not be able to determine the real progress over time if the same data or indicator differs from one source to another. For example, the disability rate in 2009/2010 as reported from the Myanmar National Disability Survey was 2.3 per cent, then from the 2014 Census it was 4.6 per cent, and then from the Labour Force Survey in 2015 it was registered as 7.5 percent. However, from the recent Myanmar Living Conditions Survey it went down to 2.8 per cent. The question is, is this trend really reflective of the actual situation in the country? Or, is it just a difference in the concept and definition or methodology of data collection? These differences, therefore, give us ambiguous results and thus greatly affect effective planning.

The Data Harmonization Project is very much an integral part of the National Indicator Framework (or the NIF) of the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (or the MSDP) which is being spearheaded by CSO and many of you were also involved in its development. Indicators in the NIF should have a clear definition, concept, coverage and should be standard across the different sources of data. For example, when we talk about children and youth, we should be able to refer to the same age grouping and should not vary from one data source or analysis to another.

This process is not a stand-alone activity but will be linked with two other statistical undertakings: the NIF of MSDP and the development of metadata for SDGs. The output of the Data Harmonization Project will be the input to these two on-going statistical activities since the concepts, definitions, categories or classifications have to be standardized first before the indicators are used for baseline, target, and monitoring purposes. It was emphasized last week during the Workshop on Metadata for the SDGs that a consensus has to be reached first before the development of metadata. And thus, Data Harmonization is the initial step that should be undertaken and focused on. As far as the dissemination platform is concerned, the output of the Data Harmonization project will share the same dissemination platform as with the NIF and SDG which according to plan would be the Myanmar Statistical Information System or the MMSIS.

Data Harmonization would also facilitate data sharing from one data producer to another collecting the same indicator. One may not need to collect again the same indicator and thus will result to a more efficient use of resources.

Part of the Data Harmonization project is building the capacity of the staff in relation to the process. This will be identified along – it can be in the questionnaire design, development of metadata, data processing and data dissemination. We would like, together with development partners, to see Myanmar able to sustain and manage all activities not only in statistical area but in all other areas as well.

Data Harmonization is a tedious process and this will require a lot of cooperation and collaboration from each one of you. CSO, being the statistical agency, will lead the process. UNFPA will be happy to provide the necessary technical assistance. I would like to emphasize that this is a country led undertaking and that the ownership lies with the Government of Myanmar. To make this initiative a success, full participation and cooperation are needed from each one. I am looking forward to the productive workshop today with the over-all guidance of DG U San Myint.

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