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.
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History of the International Statistical Institute
The International Statistical Institute, back then also know as L’Institut International de Statistique, was formally founded in June 1885, during a meeting held to celebrate the Jubilee of the London Statistical Society.
The first ISI members were the elite of that era’s statisticians in government and academia.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.
International co-operation of statisticians is one of the oldest forms of organized contact between scientific workers beyond national borders. This exceptional situation is even more emphasized when taking into account that the International Statistical Institute had already been precede by the International Congreses.
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.
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 has had consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations since 1949, which allows us to participate in the annual UN Statistics Commission and other relevant UN activities.
At the occasion of the 44th UN Statistical Commission meeting in 2013, the ISI leadership team met with Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, to discuss collaborations between the UN Statistical Commission and the ISI.
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.
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.
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.
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 low and middle income countries / regions.
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.