Where to Find International Statistics?

International statistics are essential to compare countries, understand economic or social issues and develop adequate policies. Governments, journalists, economists, researchers but also private companies need more and more reliable data in their daily work. International statistics cover topics such as population, economic growth, education, employment, poverty, gender, sustainable development, health patterns, agriculture production, environmental issues, communication, and violence.

Data and statistics collected by International Organizations are often accessible only through their websites, or through specialized portals, such as UNData. Therefore, getting access to relevant data can take long and require accessing various websites and dealing with many different formats. In addition, these websites are usually designed as a repository for the whole information produced by the organization, and it is difficult for non-specialist users to find the information they are looking for among thousands of very detailed statistical series.

Since several years, websites have been developed to fill this gap and provide the user with easier and free access to data provided by these International Organizations. They usually contain a selection of indicators, selected to meet the most important needs of decision-makers, analysts, journalists, researchers, students and other users.

All indicators can be searched, visualized as tables, maps or graphs, and downloaded for further processing. Data are collected data directly or indirectly from International Organizations, usually through specific agreement, and provided as such. Some websites include metadata (definitions, footnotes… ), and others just give the data without this yet indispensable information.

The objective is to help users understand the World. One can look for data, compare countries, and discover the reality hidden behind the figures. Questions such as “what is the population of Brazil?”, “are they more internet users in China than in India?”, “what is the economic growth rate of Philippines over the last 10 years”, or “what is the country with the highest crime rate” can be answered in a few clicks and the results visualized and stored.

The challenge for these websites is to find a good balance between quality and quantity. The more they include indicators, the more users may be drowned in an ocean of statistics. One looking after GDP per capita of a country may find more than 200 indicators for the same request (for example, in current US$, in current local currency unit, in US$ of 2000… ). The choice of indicators is thus critical to combine effectiveness and efficiency. Therefore, the voice of the users should be listened to, for example via feedback functionality, by offering the possibility to request new indicators by contacting the publisher, but also by analysing the most popular searches.

Updating is another challenge. To be credible, such sites must be regularly updated as soon as new data or revisions are available. This imply constant alert and direct link with the producers.

In a world of Big Data, where in theory everybody can access all information, there is still a need for statisticians that are able to collect, control and disseminate relevant and reliable data.