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Adolphe QueteletAdolphe Quetelet

The origins of the International Statistical Institute (ISI) can be traced back to a series of International Statistical Congresses, the first of which was convened by Adolphe Quetelet in 1853 in Brussels. The ISI was formally founded in 1885, during a meeting held to celebrate the Jubilee of the London Statistical Society. The initial 81 members were the elite of that era’s statisticians in government and academia. They established our first statutes, and our first half-century was a period of general stability. Major changes, such as a proposed affiliation in 1920 with the League of Nations, were resisted.

Rawson W. RawsonRawson W. Rawson

The first President of the ISI was Rawson W. Rawson who served from 1885 to 1899, the year he died. Other early Presidents also served long terms. Since 1975, however, the terms of Presidents have been limited to two years. Of the 36 ISI Presidents so far, 20 were from Europe, 8 from North America, 4 from Asia, 2 from South America, and 2 from Australia.

 Florence NightingaleFlorence Nightingale

There are several interesting examples of the early development and applications of statistics by ISI members. For example, Florence Nightingale was a pioneer in the development of statistical graphics to visually represent data. She developed diagrams called coxcombs and used them to illustrate the various causes of death during the Crimean War.

Noteworthy moments in our history

Some of the presidents throughtout our history.

Rawson W. Rawson Rawson W. Rawson
Luigi Bodio Luigi Bodio
Stuart A. Rice Stuart A. Rice
Georges Darmois Georges Darmois
Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao
Sigeiti Moriguti Sigeiti Moriguti
David R. Cox David R. Cox
Willem R. van Zwet Willem R. van Zwet
Jean-Louis Bodin Jean-Louis Bodin
Dennis Trewin Dennis Trewin
Stephen M. Stigler Stephen M. Stigler
Niels Keiding Niels Keiding
Denise A. Lievesley Denise A. Lievesley
Jef L. Teugels Jef L. Teugels
Jae Chang Lee Jae Chang Lee
Vijayan Nair Vijayan Nair
Pedro Luis do Nascimento Silva Pedro Luis do Nascimento Silva
Helen MacGillivray Helen MacGillivray
John Bailer John Bailer
Steve Penneck Steve Penneck
Xuming He Xuming He
An ISI Meeting in the 1920's

The first ISI Session (now called World Statistics Congress) was held in Rome in 1887. These conferences were regular biennial events until the 1938 meeting in Prague, which was cancelled in its second day because of the threat of war. The ISI essentially went into hibernation until 1947 when the next Session was held in New York. Stuart Rice (President, 1947–1953), who was the primary organizer, had an ambitious goal of adapting the ISI to a new era:

The ISI of the future must be regarded as more embracing than the single society of elected members that we have been in the past … On every hand there is a new dependence upon statistics and statisticians. … There is a crying need for world leadership in this field.

The last two statements are just as relevant today as they were in 1947, as we try to meet the challenges of our data-rich, information-oriented society.

A Post-World War II ISI Session

Before the Second World War, the ISI had sought to influence governmental statistical agencies by facilitating collaboration and by encouraging uniformity in statistical definitions and data collection. But this role was largely taken over by the newly created United Nations. The mission of the ISI was modified in 1947 to emphasize international communication among statisticians rather than with governments, and supporting the international promotion and dissemination of research as well as practice of statistics. This largely remains as our mission until today.

ISI Timeline

History of ISI Associations

The other major change introduced in 1947 was the idea of Sections (now called ISI Associations) of the ISI. While the first Section was formally adopted only in 1957, the fruits of this far-reaching innovation are clearly evident today with seven Associations that cover the wide spectrum of statistical sciences and applications. This change spelled the emergence of a new type of professional society, one that facilitated international communication among groups of individuals with common interests, not all of them members. The ISI was to be the organizational key to international statistics; it did not pretend to comprise all of international statistics itself.

ISI publications

The ISI Associations have their own governance structure, conferences, journals, and other activities. The ISI and its family of Associations work closely together to serve the needs of the international statistical community.

More about the history of the Associations can be found on their own websites:

Participants at a Workshop in Senegal, 2012

The ISI has been constantly evolving to meet the changes in the profession and the needs of the statistical community. Our current system of governance was adopted in 1979, with an elected Council and an Executive Committee made up of the President, President-Elect, and Vice-Presidents. The Presidents of the Associations are part of the Council and have a representation in ISI governance. At the biennial session in 1985 in Amsterdam, a declaration of professional ethics was adopted, and it was further revised in 2011 to respond to the latest challenges. The statutes and by-laws were substantially revised at the World Statistics Congress in Dublin in 2011, and a new category of regular membership was established. A major goal of this new membership, which is open to anyone interested in the mission of the ISI, is to attract younger members and more representation from developing countries. There were also changes to the governing structure (from three to four Vice-Presidents), adoption of English as the official language, and the use of electronic voting.

Statistical capacity building in developing countries has been a major focus of the ISI over the last few years. Several workshops have been conducted over the last few years to train senior staff in national statistical offices on improving the quality of statistical information. The ISI has also funded the organization of workshops and conferences on statistical practice in Africa and Asia. The Bernoulli Society and the ISI have partnered with the University of Oslo to develop a virtual mentoring program for PhD students. In addition, participants from developing countries have been supported for participation at ISI and Association conferences. These activities have been funded through World Bank Trust Funds for Statistical Capacity Building and by the African Development Bank.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon (left) greeting ISI President Jae C. Lee (2011–2013)

The year 2013 has been declared as the International Year of Statistics, and ISI is collaborating with several other major statistical societies to promote activities around the world to celebrate Statistics. The ISI leadership team met with Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, in February 2013 to describe this global initiative and to also discuss collaborations between the UN Statistical Commission and the ISI.

The ISI family

The ISI and its seven Associations, which cover a range of statistical areas and interests, make up the ISI family. Currently, the family has over 5,000 members, of which 2,000 are elected members of the ISI. It is a flexible organization that includes:

The ISI network includes most of the national statistical offices around the world, and it also has links with international statistical organizations from the United Nations and others, and selected professional societies.

The ISI has had consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (UN) since 1949, which allows us to participate in the annual UN Statistics Commission and other relevant UN activities.

The Permanent Office is located in The Hague, the Netherlands, and it currently has 10 staff members; Ada van Krimpen has been the Director since 2009.

Throughout its 136 years of history, the ISI has been a truly international organization that has been bringing together statisticians of all different specializations and from different parts of the world and promoting the understanding, development, and good practice of Statistics.

More history