Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Statistics • COVID-19 response

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


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 percent 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 opera¬tions possible, either through partial or full face-to-face interviews by the NSOs. As of October 2020, around 40 percent 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 field work, 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.

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 field work 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 is the Coordinator of the Inter-Secretariat Working Group on Household Surveys. She works on methodologies related to household surveys with 10 international agencies. Before she joined the current position in September 2019, she led the programme on international migration statistics. She has also worked on various statistical areas including gender statistics, population censuses, civil registration and vital statistics. She holds a Ph.D degree in Statistics from the University of Florida.

Ilaria Lanzoni manages communications for the Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) program. Over the last decade, she has worked as communications and advocacy specialist in field- and HQ-based lead roles for various international organizations, including UNICEF, FAO and IOM. Read More

Gbemisola Oseni is a Senior Economist with the Living Standard Measurement Study (LSMS) team in the Development Data Group. Her main areas of research are in the areas of poverty, labor, agriculture and rural development, as well as data collection methods and measurement issues. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from American University. Read More

Amparo Palacios-López is a Senior Economist in the Data Production and Methods Unit of the Development Data Group of the World Bank. Her primary area of research is development, with a focus on labor, gender, agriculture, and welfare. She conducts research on survey methods, focusing on labor and agriculture, the recent focus of her methodological research has been on labor and gender working jointly with the Gender Group of the World Bank and the International Labor Organization. As a member of the Living Standards Measurement Study team, she supports surveys in several countries and leads the design of the questionnaires used in surveys in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. She is part of the team of coordinators of the Household Survey Working Group and its Technical Review Panel. She has a Ph.D. in Agriculture and Resource Economics from the University of Maryland, College Park, and holds an M.A. in Economics from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Read More

Akiko Sagesaka is a statistician in the Data Production and Methods Unit in the World Bank’s Development Data Group. As a member of the Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) team, she works to improve the quality and relevance of data collected through household surveys. She is an expert in survey instrument development, data quality control, data analysis and data dissemination. She holds a master’s degree in International Development Studies from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo, Japan. Read More