Tracking development progress

Keeping governments and citizens informed

At the start of the 15-year journey towards the Millennium Development Goals (2000–2015), the absence of relevant and reliable statistical benchmarks was the norm rather than the exception in most Pacific Islands Countries.

Virtually no MDG resources were invested in regular and ongoing collection of basic development statistics or in developing indicators, so how was progress to be measured?

It is a different story in 2013 as the end of the MDG journey approaches.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), with generous financial assistance from Aus-AID, has invested huge efforts in working with member countries to first develop its National Minimum Development Indicator database and expand the system’s content and functionality to also include all population-based MDG indicators.

As Dr Gerald Haberkorn, Director of SPC’s Statistics for Development Division, says: ‘We’ve designed the NMDI database as a ‘one-stop info-shop’ to provide data users with easy access to development statistics and indicators across key sectors. This is what Pacific Leaders asked for in the Pacific Plan and it’s what our members need to assess their progress.’

In the wake of the global financial crisis, governments and donors are more focused than ever on the results and impacts of their development efforts and on the need for information to improve policy and decision-making.

This same information also enables citizens to see the impact of government policy and actions on their own lives; for example, by showing them the leading causes of infant mortality in their country or the proportion of children attending primary school.

Statistics therefore play an important role not just in monitoring progress, but also in encouraging governments and their development partners to step up efforts to achieve the outcomes being measured.

The online NMDI database has 200+ indicators that aim to provide an accurate and comprehensive snapshot of the state of development, or ‘health’, of specific sectors in each country.

The indicators had to be clearly linked to national development plans and regional and international reporting frameworks, including annual regional MDG tracking reports.

The underlying idea was to use the least number of indicators possible to provide a credible account of, for example:

  • The performance of national economies in the region, as compared to the economic well-being of citizens;

  • How agriculture is faring across the Pacific; and

  • How the health and overall well-being of Pacific Islands people is progressing.

In addition to allowing data users easy access to a vast repository of development statistics and indicators, the system allows users to look at the indicators in different ways—in a tabular format, graphically or spatially—using interactive maps through SPC’s PRISM (Pacific Regional Information System).

Dr Haberkorn notes that while statistics are enjoying a much higher profile than before in government planning and policy making, many countries still lack the capacity to produce and use a range of accurate and timely statistics.

Developing the database and a coordinated system for measuring, monitoring and reporting progress against development indicators was therefore challenging, particularly in introducing harmonised standards for systems of collection and outputs.

The latter ensures greater comparability of statistical outputs among Pacific Islands Countries, the benefits of which are highlighted in the Ten-Year Pacific Statistics Strategy (2011–2020).

The database still has data gaps in some key sectors and countries, and updating these will have top priority in its further development.

Dr Haberkorn said there are plans to “also expand NMDI coverage in 2013 to Pacific Islands territories, and, as resources permit, to expand thematic coverage to address emerging issues such as climate change and food security, and to accommodate the Pacific Leaders’ Gender Equality Declaration made at the 2012 Forum meeting”.

To access the National Minimum Development Indicator database, go to, or explore PRISM at

For further information, contact Gerald Haberkorn (, Director, Statistics for Development Division, or James Hemphill (, NMDI database manager, Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

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