ISI Congress 2021: How statistics can help build a better world

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
Ada van Krimpen, ISI Director
© Sjoerd van der Hucht Fotografie / My Eyes4u productions
The 63rd ISI World Statistics Congress is set to take place from 11-16 July 2021. This event, organised by the International Statistical Institute (ISI), will feature more than 200 sessions in which leading international speakers share their knowledge of all areas of statistics with participants. The theme of this year’s Congress is ‘Statistics and Data Science for a Better World’. The coronavirus pandemic means that this event will take place entirely online.

Statistics at work

The ISI was founded more than 135 years ago in the belief that statistical agencies in different countries should coordinate internationally, for instance, to harmonise diverse concepts. There was a need for a single body to coordinate all these interactions, and in 1885 the ISI was founded to fulfil that role. ‘ISI is a broad organisation that has around 4 000 members all over the world,’ Director Ada van Krimpen explains. ‘The goal is to connect professionals from around the world whose work involves statistics. We do that in various ways, including organising a congress every two years where a large proportion of our members come together to share their knowledge. The 2021 Congress was set to take place in The Hague, but unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic prevented that. The whole Congress will now take place online.’

UN Sustainable Development Goals

A wide range of topics will be discussed at the Congress, from a very diverse range of perspectives. Many sessions will be dedicated to the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations. Some years ago, the international community set itself 17 primary goals and no fewer than 169 subsidiary goals that must be achieved to ensure a sustainable future. ‘Those goals involve work, education, climate, the environment, etc.,’ says Van Krimpen, ‘and they are measured using indicators. In most countries, statistical agencies bear much of the responsibility for this. Those agencies already have some of the indicators in-house, but others still need to be developed, and that means exploring new sources. The delegates of this Congress will discuss the best ways to do that.’

Many sessions during the ISI Congress will be dedicated to the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations

Coronavirus pandemic

Another topic for discussion is the coronavirus pandemic. ‘This pandemic has had a big impact on the way statistical agencies collect their data. For example, surveys of individuals involve interviewers going door-to-door asking people to complete questionnaires. The pandemic has made that more difficult, so we need to find alternative methods to collect data.’ Statistics Netherlands (CBS) has built up a lot of valuable experience in The Netherlands in the use of registers and web interviews. Although this has to some extent protected CBS from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, the quality of these data during this period has yet to be established.

New methods and techniques for privacy

The ISI Director believes that communication about which extra data statistical agencies have collected during this time of coronavirus is just as important as the data themselves. ‘There are all kinds of organisations that collect pandemic-related data. The crucial question is: which data are factually accurate, and how can you communicate that to the general public?’ The Congress will also include a focus on new statistical methods and techniques for privacy. CBS is organising both a virtual booth and sessions on Privacy Preserving Computation Techniques, which allow for data to remain securely with the data source owners while the analysis takes place remotely. The ‘International Year of Women in Statistics and Data Science’ will also be rounded off with talks on the role of women in statistics and data science. This is just a small selection of the many topics. Spread over five days, there are 210 Invited Paper Sessions, 100 submitted papers and 40 poster sessions.

The advantages of an online congress

This will be the first time in the history of ISI that the biennial Congress will be held exclusively online. ‘That has its advantages,’ says Van Krimpen. ‘The Congress is now accessible to all. There are fewer obstacles, especially for participants from developing countries. Attendance at an ISI Congress used to involve long journeys and accommodation costs. One drawback is that the social element – the informal interaction between participants – is more difficult to achieve, but we’ve come up with a solution for that: we’ve set up platforms where participants can exchange ideas with each other. There are also special events for young statisticians and women who work in statistics and data science, as well as workshops.’ To ensure that as many people as possible can attend from around the world, the ISI Congress organisers have factored in differences between time zones on different continents, and recordings of the event will remain online for a month after the congress ends.

About the International Statistical Institute
The International Statistical Institute (ISI) is an international non-profit, non-governmental organisation offering memberships to statistical institutes, academic institutions and public or private enterprises. The organisation was formally founded in 1885 with a view to making statistics internationally comparable. More than 135 years later, that is still an important goal today. The World Statistics Congress’s strategic partners in 2021 are: Statistics Netherlands (CBS), Statistics Flanders and De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB). The main sponsors are: LUXs and LCDS (Leiden University) and ESRI (market leaders in GIS technology). The ISI is located in the CBS building in The Hague.

Participants who register for the congress before 23 June 2021 will pay €155 (ISI members) or €245 (non-members). The cost for students and young people aged under 35 is €55. To find out more, visit: