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BRIEF July 6, 2020

Survey of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) during COVID-19


  • Obtaining high-quality, timely and reliable data is especially urgent now during the coronavirus pandemic, so that governments can understand the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic and be able to respond effectively.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has hampered the ability of national statistical systems to produce crucial data, causing serious disruptions to censuses, household surveys, and others.
  • The World Bank and the United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD), in coordination with the five UN Regional Commissions, are conducting a global online survey to assess the impact of the coronavirus crisis on statistical offices, and to identify needs for financial and technical support. The engagement of the World Bank is being led by the LSMS team.
  • The survey will inform the global statistical community, donors, development partners and the public, to ensure that contingency plans and strategic decisions are based on evidence and the actual needs of countries.
  • It will also enable prioritization of resources and support technical cooperation to navigate the crisis.
  • The first round highlighted the heavy impact of the crisis on NSOs that nonetheless were stepping up to new data demands. The second round identified a crucial need for better coordination and technical assistance to avoid further exacerbation of global data inequalities. The third round gave a glimpse of the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on NSOs’ operations. The fourth round focused on technology challenges, funding, and costs of statistical operations and covered difficulties related to collecting data on specific population groups.
  • The first round of the survey was implemented in May 2020.  The second round was completed in July 2020. The third round was completed in October 2020. The fourth round was completed in May 2021.
  • The survey has been sent to all national statistical offices around the world; 122 national statistical offices participated in the first round and 125 participated in the third round; 118 participated in the fourth round. 

Phase I – Survey conducted in May 2020

The first round of the survey was implemented in May 2020 and focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the general functioning of NSOs.

 Key findings:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating global data inequalities. Statistical agencies in countries with the least resources are facing the greatest challenges. The pandemic has impacted their operations: 65% of NSO headquarters are partially or fully closed, 90% have staff working from home, and 96% have stopped face-to-face data collection.
  • Statistical operations have been hardest hit in low- and lower middle-income countries. 90% of NSOs in low- and lower middle-income countries are struggling to meet international reporting requirements, as opposed to one in two NSOs in high-income countries.
  • Over 60% of NSOs indicated they need additional external support.
  • NSOs are adapting and responding to the new data needs and demands of the COVID-19 pandemic and are using alternative methods, primarily phone surveys, administrative data and online surveys.
  • The global statistical community and donors must urgently provide technical assistance and financial resources to those offices most in need of support.
  • The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the digital data, while opening up new possibilities to strengthen and modernize core data collection programs as the backbone of national data systems.

Available documents:


Phase II – Survey conducted in July 2020

The second round of the survey in July 2020 looked at how restrictions and disruptions have receded or become more widespread over time, and at national and international coordination in responding to data challenges posed by the pandemic.

 Key findings:

  • Since the last survey in May, most NSOs have gradually moved towards office reopening and returning to face-to-face data collection, but working from home has become the new normal for many.  New protocols are needed to operate more efficiently under this new environment. Some of the best practices and lessons learned should be scaled up.
  • Remote work, training, data collection, and data storage are vital for NSOs to operate during the pandemic but many, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, are constrained by inadequate ICT equipment and infrastructure. This calls for more decisive investments in digital technology.
  • Short-term statistical production, which rely heavily on traditional face-to-face methods, continues to be affected, with low- and middle-income countries impacted the most.  Reliance on alternative data sources requires smart investments to build the right spectrum of skill sets amongst NSO’s staff and NSS data producers.
  • National and international coordination in the collection of data on the COVID-19 pandemic has been inadequate in some cases, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. New institutions, or repurposing of existing institutions, with strong local ownership, may be needed to address these coordination problems and enhance effectiveness of individual efforts.
  • The pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital data, while opening up new possibilities to strengthen and modernize core data collection programs as the backbone of national data systems.

Available documents:


Phase III – Survey conducted in October 2020

The third round of the survey shed light on the long-lasting impacts that COVID-19 will have on NSO’s operations. Conducted in October 2020, it includes the responses of 125 countries.

Key findings:

  • NSOs remained heavily involved in tracking the spread and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Most of the National Statistical Offices (NSOs) have at least partially reopened since the initial closure in March-April. Only 2 percent of the NSOs were still closed to all staff as of October 2020.
  • In the low and lower-middle income group, 68 percent of the NSOs that were planning a census in 2020 or 2021 had to postpone it.
  • Half of NSOs have developed new written fieldwork protocols for face-to-face interviews, while most of the remaining NSOs would consider it useful to have this type of guidelines for their survey operations.
  • NSOs are engaging in new partnerships to bridge the data gaps created by the pandemic. The main challenge in establishing new partnerships with public or private sector partners has been in formalizing the institutional collaborative arrangements.
  • Many NSOs have taken on a data stewardship role, coordinating with government or national agencies, especially on data quality and data sharing agreements.
  • The use of geospatial information and technologies has not been mainstreamed yet in COVID-19 related data collection in most NSOs, with the majority of NSOs in low and lower-middle countries expressing clear needs to build analytical capacity and infrastructure in this area.

Available documents:


Phase IV – Survey conducted in May 2021

The fourth round focused on technology challenges, funding, and costs of statistical operations. It also covered difficulties related to collecting data on specific population groups. Conducted in April-May 2021, it includes the responses of 118 countries.

Key findings:

  • More NSOs are conducting face-to-face data collection. Globally, 44 percent of NSOs resumed face-to-face data collection as of May 2021, compared to only 4 percent a year earlier. This figure is higher for NSOs in low and lower middle-income countries, where two-thirds of the NSOs have returned to face-to-face data collection, compared to only one-third in high-income countries. 

  • 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.

  • One-third National Statistical Offices (NSOs) remained closed to either all staff or non-essential staff as of May 2021, reversing the downward trend of NSO closures observed in through 2020. (We reported in the third round of survey conducted in October 2020 that one-fourth of the offices were closed.) Increases in office closures have been observed in Asia, Europe, and in particular, Latin America. In Latin America, only 39 percent of offices were partially open in May, compared to 71 percent in October 2020.   Anecdotally, this increase could be related to the impact of a second wave of the pandemic in these regions. 

  • 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.

Available documents: