Survey of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) during COVID-19
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.
Phase 3 - Survey conducted in December 2020
This report presents the results of the third round of a global survey on the
impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the operations of National Statistical
Offices (NSOs).1 The first round conducted in May 2020 focused on shedding light
on office closures and the disruptions to data collection as a consequence of
the pandemic. The second round, rolled out in July 2020, looked at the extent to
which restrictions and disruptions had receded or become more widespread. The
third round, carried out in October 2020, is focused on how NSOs have adapted to
the new reality by implementing new surveys, developing new protocols for
face-to-face data collection, and by building new partnerships. The
questionnaire also contained questions on Population Census operations and
economic statistics, proposed by the International Committee on Census
Coordination (ICCC) and the Friend of the Chair (FoC) Group on Economic
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.
Globally, about a quarter of NSOs had no restrictions to face-to-face data
collection,but there were large regional differences.
Seventy-three percent of NSOs had a Population and Housing Census planned in
2020 or 2021 before the pandemic hit. In the low and lower-middle income
group, 68 percent of the NSOs that were planning a census 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 remained heavily involved in tracking the spread and the impact of the
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.