MEASUREMENT - The third sector has been invisible in European statistics for too long. Join the statistical revolution

A central goal of the Third Sector Impact project is to institutionalize the capability of national statistical agencies to generate reliable empirical data on the third sector. After publishing a consensus definition of the third sector in Europe in December 2014, an important prerequisite for statistical agencies to implement data gathering systems that capture third sector activity and impact, TSI and the Directorate General Research & Innovation of the European Commission on 1st June 2015 co-hosted the conference “Putting the Third Sector on the Statistical Map of Europe”.

This meeting demonstrated that a quiet revolution is underway in European statistical agencies with regard to the portrayal of organizations and individual activity that comprise the third, or citizen, sector in Europe. Portugal, the Czech Republic, and Norway have implemented the UN Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts (SNA) which recommends that national statistical agencies produce regular “satellite accounts” to highlight the role of nonprofit institutions, which otherwise are largely buried in the statistics of other sectors and are therefore invisible. Poland recently became the first country to implement the ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work. Portugal committed to regular satellite accounts on the social economy, Italy just completed its third major census of nonprofit institutions and social cooperatives, etc. (click here for more information).

The lack of data on the third sector hinders advocacy efforts of non-profits, citizen initiatives, social cooperatives, social enterprises and similar entities in Europe. Researchers trying to demonstrate the added value of third sector organisations are struggling to do so due to incoherent or no data availability, hindering comparative research.

Changing national accounts is not easy. It requires political will and financial resources. One great initiative TSI member Ruth Simsa from Austria was involved in recently was an open letter calling on the Austrian government to include detailed data on the non-profit sector in the 2015 Austrian Business Report. It was signed by some of the largest Austrian third sector organisations and TSI partner Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (find out more about this great initiative here).

How about national accounts on third sector activity and impact in your country? What data is missing? What action can be taken to improve the situation? Are you aware of developments in that direction? Please share with the larger community working in and on the third sector and help bringing the sector into view in your country and in Europe.