Message from Gero Carletto (Manager, LSMS)
A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA) in Muscat, Oman, where I joined a panel discussion on how global survey initiatives like the LSMS or Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) can help us measure and monitor many of the SDG indicators. We also discussed how global initiatives like the UN Statistical Commission’s Inter-Secretariat Working Group on Household Surveys (ISWGHS) can help coordinate these efforts and position the household survey agenda within the global data landscape. Everyone seems to agree that monitoring more than 70 SDG indicators will require high-quality, more frequent, and internationally comparable household surveys. Yet, the narrative on household surveys continues to be lopsided. In my view, this is partly because strengthening traditional data sources like surveys and censuses is seen as outmoded and ineffective when compared with the more glittering promises offered by alternative data sources like Big Data.
At the risk of sounding like a luddite, I believe that it’s important for countries and donors alike to continue investing in household surveys to both validate and add value to new types of data. In many of the countries we work in, leapfrogging to the digital revolution without having gone through an analog evolution may be an ephemeral proposition. This in no way means that we should continue doing things the same way: during the past decade, household surveys have evolved dramatically, increasingly relying on technological innovation and new methods to make survey data cheaper, more accurate, and more policy relevant. Methodological and technological innovation remains at the core of the LSMS’s raison d’être and, together with our partners, we will continue pushing the frontier. Until more robust and fully validated alternatives materialize, household survey critics may want to recall the old saying, “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em!”