Methodology Knowledge Base

This knowledge base contains a collection of resources (documents, presentations, videos) to assist anyone wishing to embark on a population-based census or survey. All material is structured around the timelines below, each listing the key stages in the collection and containing material to assist in the preparation and execution of the respective stages.

(NOTE: Census Timeline is complete and Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) Timeline is coming soon)

This material includes :

  • Project plans and budget templates,
  • Training material to help conduct each of the activities where training of field staff is required (household listing, pilot census, main census)
  • Tutorials to help with anything from updating map boundaries in a mapping application to conducting a census with tablets

Census Timeline

From planning to dissemination : key stages from 18 months before to 6 months after census night.

(click on each section in the timeline to expand)

Planning (-18m)

Usually, census planning should start 18 months or more before the census is conducted (Census Night).  Unfortunately, this is not always the case, due to conflicting government priorities, unavailability of government/donor funds etc

This phase focuses on carefully planning all the different activities which are required to ensure a successful census.

  • Submission to Government

    First and foremost is the project submission to Government which explains the intention to undertake the Census and includes the proposed budget, and a detailed work plan of activities. (see below)

  • Work Plan and Budget

    Due to the remoteness of islands in the Pacific and therefor accessibility issues, preparing a workplan and budget is always a challenge.  Coupled with inconsistencies in boat/flight schedules, high costs for hiring of transport in rural areas and sometimes unfavourable weather conditions, most plans and budgets have to be reviewed progressively to accommodate these changes. Poor planning can result in delayed census activities and increased costs. Timeframes for all activities should be documented including clear deadlines. 
    Download a work plan template here

    A budget should clearly specifying the cost of all operations – this includes the cost of staff and project workers, equipment, stationery, transport, printing, training venues,  data processing, analysis and so forth. 
    Download a budget template here

    Its important to remember, than even once Cabinet approves the census budget, lengthy Government administrative processes can result in a slow release of funds. These tasks should be undertaken well in advance to ensure activities are carried out as scheduled.

    Procurement of equipment is also a slow process, so this also needs to be planned well in advance. For countries using CAPI, the purchase of tablets takes about 2-4 months, depending on the number of tablets.

  • Setup of Census Committee

    The Census committee is established as an advisory group which overseas the management of the census project, providing guidance and advice, as well as high-level monitoring and evaluation. The committee usually comprises stakeholders who are part of the National Statistical System. Potential members could include the National Statistics Office, Education, Health, Agriculture, Finance, Planning and various NGOs.  

  • Choice of Technologies

    There are several "technology" decisions required during the planning phase.

    For the household listing (if there is one), will the listing forms be paper only, will GPS units be used to record locations, or will everything be done on a tablet (questionnaire + GPS location). Most countries are now using tablets for the household listing.

    For the pilot/main census, will data collection be undertaken with paper + manual data entry, paper + scanning, or on a tablet (fully automated data entry) . Most countries are now using tablets for the data collection, and Survey Solutions is the most popular CAPI application for Censuses in the Pacific Region. Countries like Tonga, Kiribati, Nauru, RMI, Vanuatu and Fiji have used it and have released data much faster than was previously the case with their paper-based surveys.  

    Find out more about CAPI using Survey Solutions here and in this document on Survey Solutions for CAPI collections in PICTS.

  • Questionnaire Design + User Consultation

    With the adoption of CAPI for most Pacific countries, data entry systems + questionnaire design need to take place well in advance, and tested.

    A Census is only a snapshot of the country at a certain period of time, and made up of a limited number of questions. They should be well thought out, tested, and based on national priorities.  In the past many censuses have included questions that were not well tested and analysed resulting in wasted time and costs during collection, and limited usefulness for planning and policy development.

    User Consultation Workshops should be conducted with stakeholders to discuss and finalise the questions that are to be included in the questionnaire. There is often a tendency for stakeholders to push for questions that are relevant to their own needs and requirements. They need to be prioritised along with all other questions to ensure ease of completion for the interviewers and so there is not excessive burden to the households (respondents).

    See this Census Core Questionnaire Module document and Census Core Questionnaire - Supplementary Module document for more information.

  • Recruitment / Appointments

    Recruitment of project staff can be a lot of work, typically for larger countries with large teams.  Normally, the first recruitment is the appointment of the Census Commissioner, who will oversee the full census project.  The census Commissioner will then appoint/recruit his or her staff which will include:

    • Deputy Commissioner
    • Financial Controller
    • Administration officer
    • Project Manager
    • Area Coordinators
    • Enumerators, Supervisors, Headquarters (for pilot and main census)
    • Coders, Data Entry operators, Editors
    • Others – drivers, packers etc...

See here for the SDD Census and Survey Calendar with all collections past, present and future.

Household Listing + Mapping (-12m)

A listing is undertaken when there is a need to update the Enumeration Area (EA) boundaries due to movement of people. This may be as a result of housing developments, natural disasters or urban/rural migration. EA boundaries  are revised to ensure they are all roughly the same size enabling a standard workload for each Enumerator during field work.

A listing involves recording a basic count of all individials in each household and sometimes ages and sexes of the household members. These days a GPS waypoint (location) is often recorded to assist in the EA boundary updates and then census fieldwork. 

A Listing is only undertaken if there is no recent census or survey data available.

See here for more material:

Pilot Census (-6m)

The pilot census, also known as the “census dress rehearsal”, is a process in which all census operations are fully tested in a detailed, comprehensive manner.  As a matter of best practice, the pilot census ideally takes place one year ahead of the actual census date, when major external factors, such as season (weather) and holiday periods can be expected to be similar to when the census proper will be conducted.  The pilot census tests all phases of the main census including planning, logistics arrangement and management, questionnaire design and format, training procedures, fieldwork operations, publicity, coordination of payment systems, data processing, data tabulations and analysis. 

It is crucial that a pilot census is undertaken well in advance of the census because it plays an important role in ensuring that all census preparations are in place and tested.  The pilot census provides the opportunity to adjust and correct errors that could impact the success of the census, and which would end up being significantly more expensive if discovered during the main fieldwork. Countries may choose not to undertake a polit census, however this is not receommended. This paper explains the importance of pilot censuses and presents Pacific examples underlining what did and didnt work well in the past.  

Last checks (-3m)

After a pilot census has been conducted, the census team should review everything which happened from training, to fieldwork, to data processing and tabulation to ensure any bottle necks are resolved and last-minute changes are made.

Main Census

All censuses in the Pacific refer to a given point in time which is called Census Night. This is a "snapshot" in time. All questions refer to this point in time, even if the interview is conducted a week later. 

  • Training

    The main census training is simply a scaled-up version of the pilot census training. Training venues need to be organised as does equipment, catering, stationery, presentations, manuals, transportation, and selected EAs for fieldwork training.  Appointment of interviewers and supervisors often takes place during the training.

    Training materials like PowerPoint presentations, questionnaire manuals, Interviewer manuals and printed materials should be prepared well in advance. Training needs to be conducted thoroughly by the trainers in regards to the processes and procedures to be undertaken by the Interviewers, Supervisors, Area Coordinators, Headquarters and everyone involved in the Census undertaking. Every question needs to be explained clearly and in detail to ensure the questions are correctly asked by the enumerators and the appropriate information is collected.  Its important that Enumerators clearly understand all classifications, definitions and standards

    Enumerators should practice conducting interviews over and over with fellow Enumerators and  family members to ensure they are confident when it comes to census day.  This is often referred to as a pre-test, where questionnaire content, design and format are tested along with new technologies to be adopted (e.g CAPI).  These tests also include selecting a couple of EAs close to the training venue, where Enumerators will visit a handful of households each and practice.  Results and evaluations from the Enumerators will give a good indication if the respondents fully understood the questions they were asked, if the questionnaire flow made sense, if the interviews were too long, and any other issues which may have been encountered.

    A questionnaire manual is worthwhile because it explains each question in detail - how to ask, types of answers to expect etc.

    The Questionnaire Manual for the Census Core Questionnaire can be accessed here

  • Data Checking

    Depending on the mode of data collection various forms of verification need to be carried out in the field. A CAPI questionnaire has built-in error checks and skips which reduces the number of data entry errors and therefor doesnt require detailed checks in the field. If the questionnaires are paper-based (PAPI) then supervisors need to check key characteristics on all questionnaires and randomly perform in-depth checks across a range of questions. For both PAPI and CAPI, Supervisors need to check enuerators are not getting lost and correctly enumerating their selected EA. This process is easier to monitor with CAPI becasue GPS locations are recorded with the questionnaires and can be overlaid on digital field maps. All households and institution (occupied or vacant) in each EA need to covered and accounted for during the census period.

Post Enumeration Survey

A Post Enumeration Survey (PES) is undertaken to measure the quality of data collected in a Census, even though standard consistency checks and validations have been implemented during enumeration and editing.  With a large project such as a census, a variety of issues and errors can occur. These can be as a result of a poorly designed questionnaire, manuals, training, changes in procedures and so forth. A PES is undertaken to measure the degree of these errors, and whether there was an under- or overcount.  A PES is a costly exercise thats needs to be planned and budgetted for. Enumerators need to be recruited to undertake the PES in selected EAs.  More information about PES's can be found here

Data Processing & Analysis (+3m)
  • Data Entry, Coding and Editing

    There is very minimal data editing required with CAPI collections because detailed error checking is built into the data collection software which prevents most errors. Data entry is also completed in the field. CAPI also auto-codes some of the variables, though depending on how the questionnaire is structured, industry and occupation codes may need to have additional coding.

    PAPI questionnaires need significant coding to take place as part of the data entry and editing process. Data entry screens have to be designed and tested, ready for the capturing of the coded questionnaires. Training of Coders and Data Entry Operators followed by actual data coding/entry normally takes 3-6 months (or more), depending on the number of questionnaires to be captured.

    Data editing is the process of detecting errors during data collection and processing and rectifying and correcting these errors to ensure the data are accurate and reliable.  Data editing revolves around standard data quality control procedures that are normally followed, whether it be during questionnaire design, pilot testing, field enumeration, office editing or the actual data processing phase to ensure good quality statistical information are collected and captured.  

    With PAPI, once data entry is completed, data files are concatenated and prepared for final editing. Whether using PAPI or CAPI, a particular software package will be selected for statistical editing and processing such as CSPro, Stata or SPSS. Its important to have the Data Editing Specifications prepared well in advance (and ideally tested during the Pilot Census) to guide the data processing staff in doing the editing.  This provides more integrity and reliability to the quality of the data.  Recoding of variables, imputations of missing values, logic and consistency checks are part of the editing phase to prepare the final version of the data. Its important to have good data handling procedures including secure storage and backup facilities.

    More information on editing can be found here

  • Tabulation

    Data tabulation is the final data processing phase where cross-tabulations are generated from the final dataset. This phase is also part of the final editing check because inconsistencies in the data are easily detected from cross tabulating variables.  Data is finalised after fixing the errors and inconsistencies. Similar to data editing, a Tabulation Specification document like this one should be prepared for the data processing staff to follow.  This should include all the variables that are in the questionnaire, and data users should be consulted on their table requirements to useful data products are generated.

  • Analysis and Reporting

    Analysis is performed on the final tables generated in the previous step. This generally cluminates with the preparation of a Census Report and publications such as Statistical Releases, Infographics, Monographs and Administrative Reports.

    Subject-matter specialists such as Demographers often undertake this work. 

Dissemination and Documentation (+6m)
  • Wide Dissemination

    Its important to share census outputs widely so that a maximum number of users can make use of this information whether it be for developing policy, research or other purposes. Some of the main dissemination products and channels are listed below:


    Read more in Census Outputs and Use.

  • Data Use Workshop

    These workshops are designed to help explain the census results to stakeholders and potential users of the data. Procedures on how to use and interpret the data are part of this workshop so the users are aware of what information is available. In large countries its best to organise several workshops in different parts of the country to ensure maximum participation.

  • Documentation

    The whole census process should be well documented as part of a review of activities and for records.  This should fully describe what transpires throughout the different phases of the census operation, the people involved, the issues faced and how they were addressed, data processing steps and metadata.  These documented learnings can be used to improve future census activities and for comparison purposes. This documentation should ideally be upload to the Pacific Data Hub Microdata Library.

Documents linked to the above timeline

Presentation Documents and Links
CAPI in Survey Solutions - An Introduction pptx
Budget Template xlsx
Table specifications-Fertility & Mortality xlsx
Workplan Template xlsx
Census Core Questionnaire Manual pdf
Census Core Questionnaire Module pdf
Census Core Questionnaire - Supplementary Module pdf
Survey Solutions for CAPI collections in PICTS pdf
Pilot census pdf
Census Cartography pdf
Post Enumeration Survey pdf
Census Data Editing pdf
Census Outputs and Use pdf

Guidance notes

Presentation Documents and Links
GN Introductory pdf
GN1 Monetary Poverty Measurement pdf
GN2 Microdata Dissemination pdf