Opening Remarks by Deputy Managing Director Tao Zhang at The Eighth IMF Statistical Forum: Measuring the Economics of a Pandemic

November 17, 2020

Good morning,

Welcome to the Eighth IMF Statistical Forum, which offers an opportunity to discuss cutting-edge issues in economic and financial statistics and build support for statistical developments to better serve policymaking. I’m delighted to be here with you and to see such good participation from all over the world, and I particularly appreciate those who might be attending very early in the morning or late at night in your countries.

In the last three years, this forum has delved into the measurement of the digital economy, economic welfare, and the informal economy. We had discussions with academics and policymakers on data needs and identified long-term challenges for statisticians. And we discussed ways to address these statistical challenges in an economy in which new technologies and data sources are creating new opportunities for statistical systems and making some old methodologies obsolete.

Today we focus our discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic. We will consider the ways in which the pandemic has affected the capacity of policymakers, economists, and statisticians to measure impact and draw inferences to inform public policy, as well as what we can do to overcome these challenges.

During the pandemic, statistical agencies—just like private-sector businesses—have had to adapt and operate differently. Longstanding data sources and surveys have had to be replaced or revamped. Traditional approaches to data collection, compilation, and dissemination have had to be adjusted. In this context, key economic statistics—particularly those based heavily on surveys—may no longer tell us what we need to know with the same level of accuracy, and all users of official data need to keep this in mind.

But I would emphasize that our challenge is not just to figure out how statisticians can continue doing the same old job. Rather, we must recognize that the post-pandemic economy may look very different, with more people working from home, new consumer spending patterns, production disruptions affecting global supply chains, new jobs and skills, and income inequality. These changes will bring new statistical demands. Statisticians will be called to provide measurable and comparable indicators of all of these trends, and to do so rapidly.

So against this background, this year’s Statistical Forum is meant to advance our understanding of the new normal for statistical agencies. Among the questions to be considered are: (i) Did the pandemic create new data needs? (ii) How are statistical agencies exploring and using new data sources? (iii) To what extent are existing statistical systems resistant to shocks? and (iv) How can this pandemic lead to expanding the scope of existing indicators and methods to better support decision making?

Responding to these questions is particularly difficult because we are still in the middle of the pandemic, and the statistical capacity of many countries and institutions is limited.

The presentations scheduled for the first day of the Forum will identify emerging data needs for understanding economic and financial developments and vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic. Presenters also will propose innovative new indicators and approaches to meet those data needs. Tomorrow, we will hear about statistical agencies’ strategies to meet the challenges of producing and communicating timely, accurate, and relevant information during the pandemic. The agenda for tomorrow also includes a special high-level panel on Celebrating Statistics: The Science and Art of Making Numbers Talk to commemorate World Statistics Day (which takes place every five years).

Some examples of supplemental and granular indicators that fill in the missing parts of the big picture will be presented on Thursday, followed by a keynote speech by Professor Ian Goldin, one of the first thinkers to raise a red flag on pandemics as the biggest threat in our highly globalized world. His keynote speech will be followed by a one-on-one discussion with the IMF’s Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva.

In sum, the topics of the Eighth IMF Statistical Forum are highly relevant for researchers, businesses, and policymakers, as we will discuss new methods and practices to compile and communicate statistics that will help meet the data needs of the post-pandemic era.

I look forward to the discussions and your ideas.

Thank you very much.

IMF Communications Department


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