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Ensuring continuity in survey operations while mitigating risk of COVID-19 transmission: New guidance available

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Photo: World Bank / Sambrian Mbaabu

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a major challenge for household survey programs, as the health risks posed by the virus and associated restrictions disrupted traditional face-to-face survey operations in many countries. According to a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on national statistical offices conducted by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) and the World Bank in May 2020, 96% of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) had partially or fully stopped face-to-face data collection.

Almost one year into this global crisis, many countries have seen a gradual reopening of activities, which made the resumption in household survey opera­tions possible, either through partial or full face-to-face interviews by the NSOs. As of October 2020, around 40% of NSOs that had fully or partly halted face-to-face interviews were planning to resume them in full within the next six months.

In response to a call by countries during the third round of the aforesaid NSO survey, the Task Force on COVID-19 and Household Surveys – co-led by UNSD, the World Bank, and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, under the aegis of the Inter-Secretariat Working Group on Household Surveys – has released new guidance on what to consider when planning to implement a face-to-face survey, partially or fully, during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

The technical guidance note focuses on considerations to help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission during survey fieldwork, while maintaining, to the extent possible, continuity in survey operations. The note covers all aspects of planning and implementation—from assessing the country’s COVID-19 situation, choosing the appropriate data collection mode and designing survey questionnaires, to fieldwork and post-fieldwork recommendations—and is designed to be easily adapted under fluctuating pandemic circumstances.

Three key principles underly the considerations in this note:

  • Ensuring the continued availability of high-quality, timely, and well-documented data for policymaking at the national and local level;
  • Focusing on essential data by limiting field data collection activities to the minimum necessary;
  • Minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission among household survey field staff and survey respondents in order to prevent further contagion.

technical guidance note

Given the fluidity of the pandemic and understanding of how the virus affects lives, the guidance stresses the importance for survey implementers to keep their fieldwork plan adaptable and agile, monitor the COVID-19 situation continuously, update safety protocols if needed, and be prepared to adapt quickly and halt fieldwork immediately, if necessary.

Included in the note are a set of practical tools to facilitate the work of survey implementers, such as a reference checklist to guide decision-making around all aspects of survey operation, a COVID-19 risk assessment questionnaire for survey field staff and respondents, and a sample standard informed consent script that make respondents aware of any risks of COVID-19 following the fieldwork.

The note was prepared based on a review of available national guidance on survey protocols for face-to-face interviewing during the COVID-19 period, as well as relevant guidance from international and non-profit organizations.



Haoyi Chen

Inter-Secretariat Working Group on Household Surveys, UN Statistics Division (UNSD)

Ilaria Lanzoni

Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

Gbemisola Oseni

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

Amparo Palacios-Lopez

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

Akiko Sagesaka

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

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