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Dealing with disruption: National statistical offices are adjusting to continued challenges as COVID-19 keeps affecting their operations

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Woman conducting a survey

As various global restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue, so do disruptions to the operations of National Statistical Offices. This comes at a time when data remain key to inform evidence-based policymaking that addresses the manifold public health, economic, and social challenges countries face.

While a crucial role has accrued to National Statistical Offices (NSOs) in supporting government action, navigating the restrictions the pandemic imposes on their operation has brought about new challenges for them.  To understand these new challenges and NSOs’ needs, the Statistics Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Bank's Development Data Group, in coordination with the five UN regional commissions, just released the results of the third round of a global online survey to monitor the impact of the coronavirus crisis on NSOs.

The first round of the survey, released in June, highlighted the heavy impact of the crisis on NSOs that nonetheless were stepping up to new data demands. The second round, published in August, in turn, identified a crucial need for better coordination and technical assistance to avoid further exacerbation of global data inequalities.

Now, findings from the third round of the survey, completed in October with 125 countries participating, give a glimpse of the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on NSOs’ operations.

Here are some key findings from the latest report:

Is your main office closed?

is staff instructed to work from home?

Situation of Population and Housing Census data collection  .

  • NSOs are developing new fieldwork protocols to collect data under COVID-conditions. Slightly more than half of surveyed NSOs have already developed new protocols such as updated guidelines for travelling, contacting respondents, conducting interviews, and practicing social distancing. Among those without new protocols, almost eight in ten NSOs would consider it useful if such protocols were developed in the future. Interest in the future elaboration of new protocols is particularly high in low and middle-income countries, highlighting a crucial area for support through the international community. Out of the countries with new protocols, 43% signaled their willingness to share them with other countries. The Intersecretariat Working Group on Household Surveys has been working on a technical note providing practical guidance for planning and implementing household surveys under COVID-19 which is going to be published on their website.
  • NSOs are heavily involved in collecting data to track the spread and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, in many cases forming partnerships to do so. Among all NSOs interviewed, 82% are involved in collecting data on COVID-19 and its impacts.  Notably, approximately 9 in 10 respondents from Sub-Saharan Africa and in Northern Africa and Western Asia (SDG region corresponding to the Middle East and North Africa – MENA) indicated their offices are planning or already implementing efforts to collect data on COVID-19 and its impacts. These efforts have been supported through partnerships with international or public sector partners and, somewhat less frequently, private sector partners. International partnerships account for the highest share in low and middle-income countries, while public sector partnerships are predominant in their high income counterparts.

What type of partnerships were established to produce the information

As 2020 draws to a close, disruptions to NSOs continue and challenge them to step up to meet new data demands. To fulfill their critical role during the crisis, NSOs have shown adaptability by developing new protocols, forming new partnerships, and tapping into new technologies, data sources, and methods.  However, there is no doubt that more technical support and collaboration is required to ensure data production continues. Particularly in low and lower-middle income countries where financial and technological resources are scarcer and access to administrative data sources is less developed, international partners play an important role. Here, a concerted effort by the international community focused on NSOs' needs will be key in order to transition to more resilient statistical systems.

An additional round of data collection is planned to take place in January 2021, and the results will be disseminated in March.




Ivette Maria Contreras-González

Economist, Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

Yannick Markhof

Consultant, Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

Luis Gonzales Morales

Chief of the Web Development and Data Visualization, UNSD

Philip Randolph Wollburg

Senior Economist, Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

Alberto Zezza

Program Manager, Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

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