Interview with Ben Slay, UNDP Senior Advisor, on HDR 2015

Feb 22, 2016

Ben Slay, UNDP Senior advisor (left) and Jacinta Barrins, UNDP Resident Representative (right)

Dr. Ben Slay is a senior advisor in UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS (RBEC). Previous appointments include service as UNDP’s poverty reduction practice leader for this region (2012-2014), as senior advisor on sustainable development with UNDP’s Bureau for Development Policy (2012), as RBEC’s senior economist (2008-2011), and as director of UNDP’s Bratislava Regional Centre (2001-2008).

UNDP: What is the purpose of the Human Development Report?

Dr. Slay: The HDR’s purpose is two-fold.  First, it presents innovative, people-centred perspectives on key development issues.  Second, it provides internationally comparable human development data for almost all countries in the world.

UNDP: Why should countries participate and what is the implication of the reporting?

Dr. Slay: “Country participation” is a bit problematic conceptually, as far as the HDR is concerned.  The HDR covers topics that affect all countries; and all countries that report the relevant data (based on internationally comparable methodologies) have human development statistics calculated for them.  Countries that do not wish to be covered in this way can choose not to publish the relevant data, and/or request that UNDP’s human development report office not make mention of them in their reports.

UNDP: How is the data collected?

Dr. Slay: Human development data collection occurs in three stages:

i) National governments publish national data on government websites and in government statistical publications.

ii) Specialized international agencies – including the IMF, World Bank, UN Statistical Division, UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs, and UNESCO (for the human development index, or HDI) – with recognized mandates and expertise in these areas – make these data internationally comparable.  In some case, ensuring international comparability involves reworking national data (or excluding it altogether, if they do not meet international standards).

iii) For the HDI, UNDP’s Human Development Report Office (HDRO) takes/ these data from the specialized agencies.  HDRO does not collect these national data, or make the relevant computations for comparability.

UNDP: How should Turkmenistan’s ranking and indexes be interpreted?

Dr. Slay: The best interpretation would emphasize that: (1) Turkmenistan’s HDI continues to improve (i.e., the number keeps getting bigger) – showing that its citizens are on balance getting richer, living longer, and becoming better educated. (2) Turkmenistan’s HDI rating may fluctuate from year to year, depending on: (i) the number of countries for which the HDI is calculated; and (ii) whether other countries’ human development progress is faster, or slower, than Turkmenistan’s.

UNDP: How and who chooses the topic of the next report? What shall we expect in 2016?

Dr. Slay: The Human Development Report Office proposes three topics to UNDP senior management, of which one is chosen.  The 2016 HDR will be devoted to 25 years of human development.

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