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National statistical offices still face disruptions and challenges as they adapt to a “new normal”

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When the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out, national statistical offices (NSOs) around the world acted to suspend face-to-face interviews and asked staff to work from home, even though many lacked adequate technology for remote work.

Now, more than a year into the pandemic, the effects on national statistical offices are far more extensive and long-term than initially anticipated , even despite improvements NSOs have since made in collecting data and upgrading their information and communication technology (ICT). This is a significant finding of the recently concluded fourth round of a global online survey that the World Bank and the United Nations launched last year to monitor the effects of the pandemic on national statistical operations around the world.

This latest survey round, conducted between April and May 2021, focused on technology challenges, funding, and costs of statistical operations. It also covered difficulties related to collecting data on specific population groups. The results show that the situation for NSOs was less optimistic in May 2021 than it was in October 2020. They also reveal large disparities in the ability of national statistical offices in different countries to continue operating.

Key findings from the latest report include:

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic varies across types of NSOs operations. Surveys and censuses have been the most affected operations, while the maintenance of statistical registers has been the least affected. 81 percent of NSOs in low and lower-middle income countries report that surveys have been delayed or negatively affected , compared to 61 percent of NSOs in high income countries, pointing to a more marked divide in countries’ ability to cope. Almost half of the NSOs in low and lower-middle income countries report that the maintenance of statistical registers has been negatively impacted.
  • Two-thirds of the NSOs, particularly in higher-income economies, continue to rely on remote work. This result suggests that there are vast differences across countries in the availability of internet and other IT infrastructure necessary for NSO staff to work effectively from home.
COVID face to face data collection COVID effect on org funding
  • Data collection on population groups of special interest has been negatively impacted. Reaching migrants, internally displaced populations and persons with disabilities during the pandemic is a challenge for may statistical offices, including in high-income countries. Reduced phone and internet coverage was cited as the main reason for these difficulties. 

These significant and ongoing impacts of the pandemic on statistical operations are exacerbating overall persistent data inequities, particularly in low and lower-middle-income countries, which have been hardest hit.

A further, crucial insight which emerged from this survey round is that more and better financial and technical support to NSOs is key to combat these impacts. For instance, 57 percent of NSOs from low and lower-middle income countries reported that international community and donors played a relevant role in funding necessary improvements in their ICT readiness during the pandemic. Enhancing the stability, quality and predictability of NSOs operations should be an immediate priority for action by governments and the international development community. 

To help address these challenges, the World Bank is launching the Global Data Facility (GDF), which will provide a dedicated financing mechanism for countries’ data and statistics priorities. The GDF is designed to leverage World Bank support and catalyze countries’ domestic financing to strengthen the quality and sustainability of national and subnational data and statistical systems. This includes strengthening human and institutional capacity for data collection, management, governance, analysis, and sharing, as well as use and reuse by government and non-government actors around the world. It will support investments to enhance trust in data and data systems and enable more and better data use for decision-making at scale. The facility’s financing framework will help enable the implementation of the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data and recommendations from the 2021 World Development Report: Data For Better Lives. It will also support achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including efforts to close SDG data gaps. 

About Survey of National Statistical Offices:

These surveys are a joint effort of the Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study team and the United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD), in coordination with the five UN Regional Commissions. Earlier survey rounds addressed office closures and the disruptions to data collection caused by the pandemic (May 2020), the extent to which restrictions and disruptions had receded or became more widespread (July 2020), and how the NSOs adapted to the new reality by implementing new surveys, developing new protocols for face-to-face data collection, investing in the modernization of their IT infrastructure, and building new partnerships (October 2020). You can access the NSO survey brief page here.

This blog is also available on UN’s website – National statistical offices still face disruptions and challenges as they adapt to a “new normal” 


Craig Hammer

Senior Program Manager, Development Data Group, World Bank

Luis Gonzales Morales

Chief of the Web Development and Data Visualization, UNSD

Ivette Maria Contreras-González

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

Philip Randolph Wollburg

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

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