The conference of Commonwealth Statisticians is a tradition that dates back to 1920 when the first Conference of British Empire Statisticians was held in 1920 as a result of a recommendation of the Dominions Royal Commission 1911-1917. One of the strongest motivations for holding the first conference was the desire to produce consistent, high quality statistics for all British Empire countries, and to ensure that those responsible for component country statistics had influence on the development of joint standards. The British home government represented by thirty-one delegates, India by three, the self-governing dominions by five, and the colonies and protectorates by four delegates attended the meeting. The meeting had as its subject matter agenda, the concerns of the Dominions Royal Commission, namely, trade, production and migration statistics with a concession that vital statistics might also be discussed because of their connection to the latter.
Much debate ensued following this first meeting on the need to make statistical centralization the cornerstone of Imperialist policy and to establish a Central Bureau of Statistics for the entire British Empire. The purpose of the Central Bureau of Statistics would be to “obtain, coordinate, analyze and publish statistical information relating to the whole British Empire”.
However, 15 years later at the second conference held in Canada amidst much debate the idea fell away as the conference had no predominant agenda item. Rather, novel items on the agenda reflected-road transport and traffic accidents, radio broadcasting, and the growing importance of 'invisible items', such as tourism in the balance of payments. The discussion in all areas reflected a powerful awareness of the pernicious effects of world wide economic depression. The major thrust of the Conference was towards economic statistics. It was cryptically noted in the report that 'reference was also made to the definition of the term 'social statistics', but no delimitation of the subjects which should be included under this general heading was found desirable'."
A third conference of statisticians in the commonwealth would be held in 1951 where Herbert Marshall (the Canadian Statistician) as one of the few Commonwealth Statisticians who had participated in the 1935 Ottawa Conference became a key figure in reviving the forum in 1951 and ensuring regular meetings thereafter. The first post-war Conference of British Commonwealth Statisticians took place in Canberra, Australia in 1951. By comparison with the Ottawa Conference of 1935 and its predecessor, the original London Conference of 1920, there were important changes in its composition, reflecting changes in the Commonwealth itself. India and Ceylon were present as full members of the Commonwealth.
Under the Chairmanship of S.R, Carver, then Statistician of Australia, the Conference addressed a wide range of traditional topics, such as agriculture, trade, classifications, and census taking, as well as newer ones like national accounts and the application of sampling methods. Industrial and commodity classifications received a great deal of attention, probably because of the recent United Nations initiatives in the establishment of an International Standard Industrial Classification, and of an international trade classification in 1950. It was agreed that future conferences were desirable and should be held at least once every five years.
Subsequent conferences would therefore take place in the UK (1956), Australia (1966) and India (1970). It was only in 1980 that Africa hosted for the first time the 9th Conference of Commonwealth Statisticians in Kenya. Twenty years later as the World faced with anticipation the break of the new millennium, the 13th Conference of Commonwealth Statisticians was held in Botswana, titled the millennium Conference (www.cso.gov.bw).