Census rolls on with obsolete data management method


The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) is pursuing an almost obsolete method of open source solution based on the Open Data Kit (ODK). So far, the bureau has avoided developing a customised software solution before starting Pakistan’s largest-ever population census which is going on after a 19-year delay, it is learnt.

The documents available with Pakistan Today indicate that PBS has a long history of producing a number of quality surveys. However, the challenge they will face now is that their systems for data management, as well as for the implementation of surveys, have become quite outdated—and it has been over 25 years since any capacity building effort was undertaken.

Top SBP officials requesting anonymity said the bureau needed around 180,000 tablets to support and train interviewers to shift to Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) for price data collection, and now technical support with software and hardware issues may arise. The PBS needed additional Rs29 million funds to procure tablets, they said.

“There is also a much greater need for a timely and sufficiently disaggregated data to support the effort, ensuring equitable access to key services after decentralisation,” a World Bank document mentions. Moreover, the document called PBS for making an improvement in the quality of Consumer Price Index (CPI) data by including rural areas.

The documents indicated that discussions to improve the HIES consumption module with PBS are underway with particular emphasis on capturing food consumed away from home more adequately. However, the banks kept on waiting for receiving any certain confirmation.

On the other hand, the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s background Paper-2 for December 2016 assesses the reliability and credibility of the household surveys that generate data for poverty analysis in Pakistan. It focuses on the data generated by four household surveys: the Household Integrated Economic Survey (HIES), Pakistan Integrated Household Survey (PIHS), Pakistan Demographic Survey (PDS), and Labour Force Survey (LFS), all the four are carried out by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).

The HIES is the main source of data for poverty estimates in Pakistan and should be strengthened, at least to the extent of producing regular, credible data, even at intervals of two or three years. “The reliability and credibility of Pakistan’s poverty database, which is generated primarily through household surveys, has been debated for a long time. Issues of concern include updating the sampling frame, survey comparability, availability when needed, frequent changes in field methodology and the quality of questionnaires used.” The bank’s documents mentioned.

On occasions, ADB has shown its reservation on the reliability of PBS, saying that frequently changing data collection methodology of the FBS has affected the reliability and comparability of its survey data.

In the latest appraisal documents, the bank has also blamed PBS field supervisors for the negligence. “This is a poor defence. This is a serious sampling task and should be managed regularly well before a survey is started,” it added, proposing adoption of reliable and independent internal mechanisms for supervision and validation of fieldwork to address the problem.

Chief Statistician Asif Bajwa, however, told that all arrangements had been finalised for the first phase of the census and the field staff has been provided with the required material.