How Stats SA has reinvented itself under lockdown
‘One of the things we cannot deny is that technology will take the centre front as we go beyond Covid-19’
SA’s central statistics gathering agency is making use of online surveys during the Covid-19 lockdown in a bid to continue generating the data needed by the government, and is looking at this method to prepare for the national census in October 2021.
Stats SA produces a range of statistics on issues ranging from consumer inflation, GDP and unemployment as well as conducting surveys on poverty, inequality and the delivery of services.
As soon as the lockdown was declared it withdrew its data collectors from the field to prevent the spread of infection and sought alternative, technological means of gathering information
It has produced online survey results on the effect of the pandemic on business turnover and the ability of firms to survive the lockdown; unemployment and income; an essential products consumer price index; the effect of the pandemic on health behaviour and perceptions about Covid-19 and on education; and the accessibility of medicines.
A survey was also conducted on the extent of interprovincial movements during the lockdown.
Statistician-general Risenga Maluleke told parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration on Friday that there was no greater time than the current situation when data was needed.
“Not only Stats SA, but all statistical agencies in the world are faced with the biggest challenge to reinvent themselves and the methods they are using,” he told MPs.
He said a battery of tests ahead of the 2021 census would have to be undertaken. Questionnaires would be sent out electronically, web interviews would be conducted and those with computer access would be asked to self-enumerate. Those who had a problem of computer illiteracy would be assisted by field workers.
“One of the things we cannot deny is that technology will take the centre front as we go beyond Covid-19,” Maluleke said.
The census, the last one took place in 2011, will determine the size of the population, its age and gender breakdown and provide a picture of living conditions, access to basic services and so on.
The 2011 census and data from the 2016/2017 community survey, which involved about 1.5-million householders, would be the basis for Stats SA’s assistance to the Electoral Commission of SA for next year’s local government elections, Maluleke said.
Even though Stats SA has faced financial challenges — its council threatened to resign a few months ago if its budget was not increased — like all other departments it is having to propose cuts to the Treasury as part of the government’s efforts to find R130bn in funding for its Covid-19 response.