Growing, Collaborating and Empowering

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The first two ISI strategic priorities were discussed in February and March. Statistical Communication and Networking and increasing the Public Voice of Statistics. The focus of my comments this month are on Developing Statistical Capacity.

We define our Statistical Capacity Building (SCB) objectives as:

  • enabling statistical practitioners in the public and private sectors to use state-of-the-art methods for data collection, analysis and interpretation;
  • contributing to the development of statistical infrastructure and human resources in official, survey, and business statistics as well as in statistical education and research.
Photo by Dio Hasbi Saniskoro from Pexels


Most of my professional career has been spent as a teacher and mentor of statistics students. Reflecting on this work, I think this was an implicit commitment to SCB although I may not have labeled it as such. I worked with students with a goal for them connecting and understanding statistical principles and an additional goal of empowering the students to better understand, apply and investigate statistical methods. While my early view of SCB contained key ideas of connection, collaboration and empowerment, my understanding and appreciation for SCB grew as I became more involved in ISI and in our profession.

Ongoing individual-level capacity building is a personal goal for all practicing statisticians. When I finished my formal statistical education, bootstrapping was a cool idea that was starting to gather momentum in practice, Bayesian analyses tended to focus on manipulations with conjugate priors and linear mixed effects models were emerging as an amazing option for analyzing longitudinal data. Oh yeah, and R didn’t exist. Establishing a strong foundation to use modern methods and software was facilitated by continuing professional education including short courses, self-study and more. Many of these short courses and workshops were part of the program at professional conferences and were offered by professional societies. I am grateful to the generation of colleagues who provided these learning opportunities, and I am pleased to report that the ISI Short Course Program has been released and is open for registrations. (Kudos to Natalie Shlomo and the short course committee for their hard work to build this program.) Your professional development and personal capacity building will be well served by your participation in this opportunity. As part of my personal thank you to the many colleagues who offered short courses in the past, I will be teaching one of our short courses. Finally, other online resources are being added to the ISI web site including an IASS organized Analysis of Survey Data using R course and the Data Science course organized by the ISI Statistical Capacity Building Committee.

Capacity building extends beyond each practicing statistician to organizations, regions and countries. As an international statistical society, ISI looks to support the enhancement and expansion of statistical practice and research around the world. The ISI Statistical Capacity Building Committee, chaired by ISI Vice-President Fabrizio Ruggeri and former ISI Vice-President Irena Križman, has a series of successes that highlight now.

Communication and interaction with colleagues around the world can be a challenge although the pandemic has spurred the development of options. Online, virtual events are a critical means of connecting across colleagues over a world of different time zones. One of the major successes of the SCB committee is working to create and expand the webinar infrastructure at ISI. Building up the webinar abilities of ISI required setting principles, involving and connecting Associations, working to create a common environment (brand, logo, program) and training people. ISI Director Ada van Krimpen and Junior Webmaster Katie Junasova have provided invaluable support to implement this. Many associations and special interest groups (SIGs) already have contributed to this effort:

The financial support for the launch of the webinars was based on investing the remainder of the World Bank funds to support this work.

SCB also addresses issues related to the future of our profession and the capacity of organizations. Recruiting and encouraging young people in South Africa to explore majors and careers in statistics and data science. Delia North, ISI SCB Committee Member and dean of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, organized an event about “Women in Analytics” where there were talks, games and posters for classroom and 50 female students attending. A companion event (“Dudes in Data”) involved 50 boys (and 10 teachers in each event). Supporting partnerships to expand statistical collaborative laboratories in different countries resulted in a MOU between ISI the LISA 2020 project. Eric Vance, ISI SCB committee member and LISA 2020 project, helped support this connection. Many local workshops, mostly related to the event LISA2020, were supported. They were mainly in Nigeria, but we also supported events in Ghana, Tanzania and Pakistan. Some of them (especially the ones in Pakistan) were targeted to women. Some courses were about the use of R or relevant packages (Tidyverse).

Other ISI and World Bank supported events have included the ISBIS regional meeting in India and the Play with Data event in Iran, both virtual. We were very keen to support activities targeted to women in support with the International Year of Women in Statistics and Data Science, # IYWSDS.

Partnership and collaboration is a key element of ISI activities in SCB. We are now working on another MoU with WAYSA (West African Young Statisticians Association) to provide some support for their forthcoming second meeting, WAYSA was created after the SADA  (Statistique Appliquée pour le Développement en Afrique ) conference in 2016. The ISI SCB committee is cooperating with the Data Campus at UK NSO for a course in Zambia but this has been postponed as a consequence of the pandemic, Additional onsite training is being planned with course in  Colombia, Peru and the Philippines being discussed.

ISI has a history and ongoing commitment to support the growth, development and enhancement of capacity in national statistical offices (NSOs). Our past collaborative efforts have included high level workshops for mid and high-level managers in NSOs. In addition, many of our short courses and sessions at the WSC will emphasize topics of relevance and interest for these communities.

We often hear the expression “it is in our DNA” to suggest that some characteristic is critical for the health, ongoing function of an organization and is heritable to future generations. Statistical Capacity Building IS part of the DNA of ISI, and I am proud to be part of an organization that embraces this.

John Bailer (@john_bailer)
ISI President
16 April 2021


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