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Ensuring continuity

Impact of COVID-19 on the implementation of statistical surveys in the I.R. Iran

This article is also available in Russian.

The unprecedented outbreak of the coronavirus and its resulting crisis have created a huge challenge to the routines of many governmental, non-governmental, civil society, organizations and businesses. The Statistical Centre of Iran (SCI), like other National Statistical Offices (NSOs), is making necessary adjustments to prevent disruptions in the production of high-quality time series of statistical data and information required by policymakers, academics, researchers and other statistical users at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest possible time. Moreover, the SCI considers itself responsible for observing the health protocols of statistical enumerators as well as respondents to surveys and censuses, and prioritizes keeping the valuable social capital.

The Statistical Centre of Iran coordinates the National Statistical System and the production of official statistics as a guide for national planning and policy making system. In the fulfillment of this important national and professional mission, the SCI has made a constant effort to provide timely and quality statistics in historical ups and downs and in various social, economic and political conditions. While this has allowed SCI to continue the implementation of national censuses and statistical surveys under any circumstances, there are times when adjustments have been necessary.

In the current COVID-19 situation, the SCI has found it necessary to obtain information on initiatives and measures adopted by the National Statistical Offices of other countries or the recommendations and instructions provided by international statistical organizations and to establish direct contacts with these authorities. Accordingly, a comprehensive study on the measures taken by other countries in tackling with the consequences of this global crisis and its impacts on statistical processes and the continuation of the activities of national statistical offices has been conducted. The summary of this study showed that shifting to methods that do not require face-to-face contact between enumerators and respondents, eliminating field operations and replacing traditional methods with less risky methods such as telephone interviewing, computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) and computer-assisted web interviewing (CAWI) and paying special attention to registers and administrative registers and moving towards register-based activities, are the most important and common initiatives used in countries around the world.

Moreover, the Statistical Centre of Iran according to the guidelines and directives issued by the Ministry of Health and Medical Education and the National Headquarters for combating the COVID-19 epidemic, and considering the importance of protecting health and safety of its staff under current critical situation, has adopted several preventive and protective measures. In this line, the SCI has shifted a part of its staff’s activities and tasks to telecommuting (working from home). In using these facilities, priority has been given to individuals and groups at higher risk, such as staff with compromised immune system, respiratory problems or heart disease, as well as pregnant women.

While observing the communicated health protocols and the use of telecommuting (work-from-home) modalities for staff, the SCI has not stopped or suspended the implementation of any surveys. By using alternative methods such as telephone interviewing and in some cases, changing the implementation date of the surveys, the SCI has tried to manage the consequences of the crisis as much as possible and minimize its adverse consequences, and considers it as its duty to inform the planners, decision makers and the public. The followings are some changes made and the decisions taken to continue the surveys by the Statistical Centre of Iran:

The 2020 Surveys of the Statistical Centre of Iran

1. National Tourism Survey

Objective of the survey: This survey aims to provide statistics and information in the field of tourism, including the number of trips and its characteristics and tourism costs.

Implementation method of this plan so far: The survey has thus been implemented using face-to-face interviews with households, and completing the questionnaire (20 March—21 June) in the first two weeks after the end of spring. However, tourism information collected from respondents during the pandemic is likely to be subject to mis-reporing due to the national campaign advising people “not to travel”, which is well visible in the social media, and related social pressure from the people. Accordingly, the questions of this survey are among the sensitive questions and prevent collecting accurate information.

Changes forced by COVID-19: Due to the existing conditions, this survey will be implemented next year or in another statistical time, such as summer, when the behavior of the statistical population has returned to normal.

2. Monthly Survey of the Number and Products of Large Livestock

Objective of the survey: This survey aims to estimate the number of livestock (cattle and calves) on the survey day and the products (milk and number of livestock supplied for slaughter) in the survey month.

Implementation timing: In 2019, the fourth (last) week of each month (Iranian month). In 2020, it will be implemented quarterly and in the fourth week of the last month of each season.

Data collection method so far: Data is being collected through a face-to-face interview in the first month and telephone interview in the second and third months, as well as face-to-face interview with replacement holders in the second and third months.

Changes forced by COVID-19: The face-to-face interview phase with replacement holders has stopped and phone survey has replaced it for collecting data from the holders.

3. Monthly Survey of the Number and Products of Small Livestock

Objective of the survey: This survey aims to estimate the number of small livestock (sheep and lambs and goats) on the survey day, and products (milk and number of livestock supplied for slaughter) in the survey season.

Implementation timing: The third week of the last month in every season

Data collection method: Phone survey and face-to-face interview with replacement holders.

Changes forced by COVID-19: The face-to-face interview phase with replacement holders has stopped and phone survey has replaced it for collecting data from the holders.

4. Survey of the Livestock Slaughtered in the National Slaughterhouses

Objective of the survey: This survey aims to calculate the amount of annual red meat supplied by the slaughterhouses as one of the socio-economic indicators.

Implementation timing: The first two weeks of every month (Iranian month).

Data collection method: The survey questionnaire is uploaded on the SIJAD System and updated in April every year. Moreover, the soft questionnaire as a file is provided to the expert in every province (to complete it in a paper format if needed). A unique username and password are created for every slaughterhouse and provided to the authorities of the survey in every province for different phases of the survey.

  1. In the slaughterhouses having access to the Internet, the person in charge of the slaughterhouse completes the web-based questionnaire uploaded on the SIJ AD.

  2. For the slaughterhouses without access to the Internet, the veterinarian supervisor available in the slaughterhouse receives the information from the person in charge of the slaughterhouse and then uploads the information on the SIJAD System; otherwise, the person in charge of the slaughterhouse completes the paper questionnaire and sends it to the experts of the Deputy Department for Information and Statistics in respective province to upload it on the SIJAD.

Changes forced by COVID-19: For the slaughterhouses without having access to the Internet, provincial expert is communicated to use the phone to collect data as an alternative method if it is necessary to visit the slaughterhouse to receive the completed questionnaire. Like the Survey of the Number and Products of Large Livestock, this survey also allows the provincial experts to do survey activities (simultaneously to insert the data into the SIJAD System and do thematic editing while saving data) by teleworking (work from home).

5. Household Income and Expenditure and Survey

Objectives of the survey: The survey aims to, annually, estimate the average of the total expenditure, food and income of the urban households and estimate of the annual changes or averages in urban areas across the country and to annually estimate the average of total expenditure, food and non-food items and income of households in urban areas at provincial levels.

Survey dates: 20 April 2020—19 April 2021

Data collection method: In a normal situation, the data are collected by face-to-face interview with the sample households through the questionnaire.

Changes forced by COVID-19: With respect to the sampling methods and the existing phone numbers in the sample list, the phone survey is done (a special instruction has been sent to the authorities in the provinces to tackle with the households who do not cooperate in the survey, or for unauthorized phone number, nonresponse, and other issues).

It has been decided that all the needed information for the entire season of spring 2020 be collected during 21 June –21 July 2020. By considering the situation of the country and the results of the phone survey for the households of the survey left from the winter of 2020, the method of the survey in 2020 will be revised.

In order to gain households’ cooperation and prevent any increase in the rate of nonresponse, it has been decided to run a publicity campaign, and that the households and partner government agencies at national, provincial, and sub-provincial levels be informed about the methods of conducting the survey.

6. Time Use Survey

Objective of the survey: The aim of the survey is to collect information on the type of different activities done by the people and time spent for them and to study the changes in their lifestyles.

Survey date: The second week of the third months in spring and summer.

Data collection method: Generally, this survey is implemented by completing two questionnaires, namely: (1) a household questionnaire, and (2) an individual questionnaire for persons aged 15 and over present in the household. The household questionnaire is completed by a face-to-face interview with the sample households. After completing the household questionnaire, the individual questionnaire is delivered to the same household by the enumerator, to be completed by the members aged 15 and over present in the household. Each of them is asked to, individually, write down the activities they perform during a 24- hour period, following the instructions provided to them. Two days later, the self-completed questionnaire is collected by the respective enumerator.

Changes forced by COVID-19:

  1. If the situation improves by 20 May 2020, it will be possible to conduct the survey during 13 -20 June 2020, instead of the first week of the mentioned month in order to ensure the households and operation staff health protocol observation.
  2. If the conditions do not change and the essential equipment is provided, the phone survey as an alternative method can be used.
  3. Otherwise, it is suggested that this survey be postponed to next spring and summer (2021).

7. Labour force Survey, Spring 2020

Objective of the survey: The Labour Force Survey is conducted in order to obtain information on the structure and current condition of Labour force and its changes. This objective is accomplished by the quarterly and annual estimation, at national and provincial levels, of labour force indicators, population in labour force, and changes in labour force.

Statistical date: The statistical date is the second and third calendar weeks (Saturday to Friday) of the middle month of each season for determining the activity status, which is called the reference week of the month.

Survey date: The survey date in each season is the third calendar week of the middle month and the week after that week, that is, the week after the reference week. Therefore, if the household is visited in the third calendar week of the month, the questionnaires will be completed by considering the second calendar week as the reference week, and if the visit to the household is done in the fourth week of the month, the third week of the month is considered as the reference week.

Data collection method: The data is collected usually by face-to-face interview with the households by tablet device.

Changes forced by COVID-19: It has been decided that phone interviews be used for collecting data in this survey in May 2020 as an alternative method to deal with the crisis resulting form COVID-19. Since it is decided that the checker control some part of the collected information by phone, it is emphasized that the enumerator get the fixed phone number or cell phone of the households as far as possible.

In order to gain households’ cooperation and prevent any increase in the rate of nonresponse, it has been decided to run a publicity campaign, and that the households and partner government agencies at national, provincial, and sub-provincial levels be informed about the methods of conducting the survey.


This article was contributed by the Statistical Centre of Iran.(https://www.amar.org.ir/english).