Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Statistics: Gauging the Present and Predicting the Future

Dr. Tumbenthung Y Humtsoe
Economics & Statistics Officer

Since the year 2007, the birth anniversary of Prof. PC Mahalanobis – June 29 – is celebrated as National Statistics Day, in honour of the Prof.’s significant contribution to the development of Indian statistical system. Although India is celebrating the 17th National Statistics Day in the current year on the theme, use of data for decision making, the public knowledge on the salience of data for policy making in particular and societal progress in general as well as the necessity to accurately respond during any socio-economic survey remains much wanting. The same adversely affects the scenario of statistics (especially in our State) and consequently the quality of policy discourse as well as policy making, implementation and evaluation – for which data is indispensable. Against the said backdrop, the current essay is intended as a popular awareness intervention on the significance of statistics, and to disseminate some of the statistical reports of Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Government of Nagaland (henceforth as DES).
To begin with, what is statistics? To put it very simply, statistics means numerical information (or numerical description) about a certain subject(s). Census, for an instance, is a statistic about the population of a country (say, number of people, children, female, and so on). To put it differently, statistics also means painting a numerical picture about a certain matter of importance by using graphs, charts and so on. Before proceeding further, distinguishing between official statistics and unofficial statistics may be of interest and utility.
What is official statistics? Any statistics from official sources, or any data published by competent (or authorized) agencies (or Departments) of the Government (Centre and State) are called official statistics. The statistical information contained in the Statistical Handbook of Nagaland published annually by DES is an official statistics. So then, what constitute unofficial statistics? Any statistics from non-governmental sources are called unofficial statistics. The statistical information contained in a research work (say, the number of bus users in Kohima as reported by an urban scholar) is an unofficial statistics.
To proceed further, the importance of statistics is discussed as under:
Determining the current state of key aspects of society:
In order to determine the prevailing economic state of any society, statistics on the economy are a requisite. In perspective, in order to ascertain the current size of our economy, Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) is estimated by DES. Similarly, in order to assess the prevailing overall economic condition of the State, the Department publishes Economic Survey annually. To specifically account for rural development, the Village Level Development Indicators is another yearly report by DES.
Apart from the economic aspects, in order to determine the present status of certain social aspects, social sector statistics are a necessity. Gender Statistics, an annual publication of DES, is an example of such a data that provides information on the state of gender parity in Nagaland. Another such report in the social sector by the Department is the Survey of Persons with Disabilities in Nagaland.
Analogously, in order to assess the current condition of certain political aspects, polity statistics are a requisite. Say, in order to ascertain the state of democracy in our State, we require data on electorate, voter turnouts during elections and suchlike. DES again publishes Election Report quinquennially after every State Assembly elections. Local Bodies Report is another such publication by the Department specifically on grassroots democracy.
Determining the changing state of key aspects of society:
Statistics are also a necessity even for determining the changing conditions of certain critical areas of a society. In perspective, in order to ascertain whether the size of our economy is expanding or not (or simply, whether we’re becoming richer or not), GSDP of last year is compared with that of the current year’s, or that of the last decade with the present decade. Similarly, in order to assess whether our State is progressing towards gender parity, gender statistics of the past year is contrasted with the present year’s, and so on. Again, to measure the changes in the state of our democracy, we require relative statistics on the changing number of voter turnouts during elections and suchlike. All of such comparative analyses are presented – or can be ascertained from – in the above-mentioned as well as other reports by DES.
Forecasting the future state of key aspects of society:
In order to predict the possible scenarios of certain vital aspects of any society, statistics are again a requisite. In perspective, in order to project the population of the State, we require past population data to make an extrapolation (meaning, estimating future trends from past trends). Such forecasts are required for an anticipatory planning (expressly, planning in advance for probable future scenarios). To illustrate: if the population of Kohima is projected to increase by a certain percentage in the next decade, then the public transport service should be planned accordingly. (Demographic data is published annually by DES in its annual Report on Civil Registration System). Analogously, by making projections, anticipatory planning can be made to pre-empt avoidable social, economic and political issues. As discussed below, statistics is not only required for anticipatory planning but also for planning in general.
Efficient and effective policy making:
For any project, plan and policy to be efficient and effective, being data-driven is imperative. Since resources – monetary and otherwise – in the disposal of a government are limited, Governments have to prioritize certain projects over others. In deciding such an order of priority of projects, statistical guide is essential. In perspective, if social sector data suggests that the state of education is worse than that of health, Government may prioritize education project over that of health. Post ordering of priority, statistics is again required in project designing. To illustrate: if education data indicates that dropout rate is highest in the primary section, Government may design a project with an attention on the same. After project designing, statistics further aid in monitoring project implementation. Say, to monitor the progress of the education project, a government needs statistics on enrolment ratio, dropout rate and so on.
In order to assess the success or failure of such a project (or a plan), data is required. On the whole, statistics is therefore essential at all the stages of planning: from deciding the order of projects to project designing to project monitoring. In other words, from pre-project assessment to post-project appraisal, data is imperative.
In the absence of statistics, numerical representation (or quantification) of social realities will be impossible. In such a circumstance, social ills, economic problems and political issues cannot be diagnosed so that effective policy prescription can be advanced for the same. In order to avoid mistaken diagnosis and erroneous policy prescriptions, accurate reporting of data is essential. As we celebrate National Statistics Day, as responsible citizens, may we all commit towards strengthening the statistical system in our State by being conscientious respondents to any survey questions.