In the first half of this year, we have been working with the Eurostat unit responsible for agriculture and fisheries statistics. They are setting up a system of statistics on agricultural input and output (SAIO), together with Member States’ statistical services. Our role was to help develop a format for the discussions of Directors of Agricultural Statistics from across the EU at their annual meeting, so that they would be in a position to give guidance on the future direction of the SAIO regulation.
Working with Member States on creating a common system in various areas of public administration is at the core of European integration. It is also quite challenging, because of the different framings, different understandings of the terminology and different realities on the ground. At its best, the whole EU benefits from pooling the experience and creating new connections and better systems. In the worst case, everyone locks themselves in rigid positions which lead to a “least common denominator” solution and sometimes not even that.
In order to do get the best of Member State collaboration, together with a core team in the Eurostat, we have discussed some possible formats, which we then presented to the Task Force on SAIO, composed of representatives of Member States. The option retained was that of an issue mapping workshop, using the format we have developed for preparing stakeholder consultations.
After discussing how to adjust the workshop format to the needs of this particular exercise, the Eurostat team produced a set of issues – topics to be covered by agricultural input/output statistics based on the previous work, which were to form the basis of the mapping exercise. The participants were to take each issue and place it on a large sheet of paper, clustering those which they consider are connected, and then naming and connecting the clusters.
As the Eurostat team started to test the method and the tools, we learnt that we should revise and simplify the format and the content of issue sheets, the scope of the exercise (eliminating one element that was too complicated). All in all, however – the tests (in smaller, and then larger, group) have shown that the conversations generated by the exercise were really interesting and useful. Once the material and the approach were settled, we briefed the prospective moderators from the Eurostat team and rapporteurs from Member States on the process and their jobs.
- The workshop
The Director’s meeting took place at the beginning of June in Vienna. The participants were invited to take a step away from their usual place at the negotiating table and work around a common issues map in one of the four groups.
The results were four issue maps putting the statistical topics in wider perspective – with context and connections. There was enough space and time to hold heated discussions about the different approaches to agricultural statistics and share examples from particular Member States. This means that future work on this topic will be much richer in substance and the participants will have in mind both the common mappings as well as the national positions when considering the new system.
Initially we had hoped that this session would allow participants to formulate longer-term strategic guidance directly after the discussions, but we were not able to elicit such straight-forward recommendations. More time and reflection is needed. But the work on the SAIO regulation does not end with one workshop and the results, further processed and analysed by the Eurostat team, will shape the bigger process of creating new policies.