• English

UNECE countries discuss the long-term future of population and housing censuses

For over 60 years national experts on population and housing censuses have participated in meetings and other activities of UNECE to discuss census methodology and prepare recommendations. 

In 2015 the Conference of European Statisticians adopted the recommendations for the 2020 census round. Most countries in the region are currently working to prepare the next census based on these recommendations in 2020 or 2021.

Many countries will for the first time introduce important innovations to increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve the quality of census outputs. With regard to methodology, over half of UNECE countries plan to use data from registers and administrative sources as either the only data source, or in combination with a limited field data collection. With regard to technology, many countries plan that respondents fill the census questionnaires on the Internet, or provide census enumerators with tablets or other electronic devices to collect data in the field.

National census experts met in Geneva on 4-6 October 2017 to discuss these innovations and the implications of using multiple data collection methods in one census. A session of the meeting was dedicated to the use of censuses to provide data on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The meeting also included a panel session on the long-term future of censuses beyond 2020. In the European Union (EU), work is under way to define a long-term strategy for EU censuses. The most likely scenario is that from the mid-2020s a new annual data collection will be introduced, including initially a limited set of key topics, complemented by a recurring decennial census from 2031. The content of the annual data collection would be extended progressively as long as the relevant data would be available from administrative or other sources.

The discussion in the panel session showed that many countries outside the EU are also developing strategies about the long-term future of censuses. The following factors were considered as relevant in the discussion on the future of censuses:

  • the increasing reluctance of respondents to participate in statistical surveys including censuses;
  • the increasing availability of data from administrative sources, and the need to measure and improve their quality in order to use them for the census;
  • the possibility to use “big data” (including from utility providers, social media, etc.) to obtain information on specific variables or to support the census operations and complement other data sources;
  • the need to be able to quickly provide information on emerging phenomena;
  • the evolution of social and demographic behaviours, including new forms of household arrangements that are often difficult to measure;
  • the increasing spatial mobility of the population between various places, which could make the concept of “place of usual residence” less relevant in the future;
  • the fact that commercial companies will be increasingly providing alternative data on many census topics quickly and at limited or no cost, without necessarily respecting the standards guaranteed by National Statistical Institutes, for instance in terms of data quality and confidentiality.

Based on the discussions, the census experts agreed to propose new work on strategies for the future of censuses beyond 2020 and on the measurement of the quality of administrative sources for use in censuses.

For details on the Meeting of the Group of Experts on Population and Housing Censuses, please visit: http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=43939