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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted numerous plans and projects. The 2020 population census is not an exception. However, it must go on despite numerous challenges.  

“We are only left with 25 percent of the budget because of the COVID-19 pandemic… So, I encourage all of our colleagues to stay optimistic and to work with what we have,” Dr. Suhariyanto, Chief Statistician of BPS-Statistics Indonesia, explains during a recent online interview with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 

Adjusting to the rapidly changing circumstances, BPS has come up with innovative ways to ensure that the census achieves the objectives as planned, including improved data accuracy and efficiency, while paying attention to safety and health protocols. 

A New Approach to Population Census

The 2020 population census marks the first census in the history of Indonesia that combines online and offline methods (multi-mode data collection) as well as uses different sources of population data (combined methods). 

The combined methods are a way to use different sources of data as pre-listing data for the conduct of the population census. In the case of Indonesia, BPS uses the registration data from the Population and Civil Registration Office (Dukcapil) as a basis of population listing. They also use population identity number (NIK) data to improve accuracy and make the results of population census as the basis of a policy reference. 

“The Dukcapil data show the registered residence information, the population size according to ID cards. In reality, mobility is really high so we need to know the population size based on the usual residence information… to improve future policies,” explains Dr. Suhariyanto. 

The online population census commenced on 15 February 2020 on the BPS website. Initially, BPS intended to complete it before 31 March. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, information about the online census was not shared effectively, leaving BPS with no choice but to extend it until the end of May. With the hard work of the BPS team and all partners, around 51.4 million people, or 19 percent of the total population, participated in the online census, which was slightly lower than the target of 23 percent. Starting this September, the census was resumed with offline door-to-door data collection throughout September to reach the remaining 81 percent. 

“I think this is a really large number. Twice the size of Australia’s population... seeing the response from 51.4 million is incredible. There are many areas that do not have internet access. Digital literacy rate also has to be considered... So, I’m not disappointed with the result,” Dr. Suhariyanto says. “There are many important lessons that we learned from this online census as well. In 2030 we might be able to conduct the population census entirely online so that we don’t have to go to the field anymore,” he adds.

Census in the Time of Pandemic

Various adaptations have to be made during the preparation and implementation of the population census due to the restrictions of movement and implementation of health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNFPA has supported BPS in conducting this census, including in providing long-distance learning to train field census workers through IT based technology and self-learning via national television (TVRI) and radio (RRI) broadcasting in lieu of in-person training. 

To further ensure the safety and health of both the census officers and the census targets, BPS implements strict health protocols for all census armies before going to and when they are in the field. “Following directions from the COVID-19 Taskforce, all of our officers have to take the rapid test. When they’re in the field they have to wear masks, gloves, and face shields as well as wash their hands and maintain physical distancing,” says Dr. Suhariyanto. 

In conducting the offline population census, BPS uses a zoning system based on the situation and condition of each region. They divide the country nation into three zones. In Zone 1, census field workers use drop-off and pick-up (DOPU) sites to distribute printed questionnaires to the community and collect them when they are filled in. In Zone 2, census field workers verify population data on the ground without detailed interviews. In Zone 3, which covers 41 districts in Papua and West Papua, the census field workers conduct face-to-face interviews to ensure the quality of data, while observing strict health protocols.

“In Papua and West Papua, the quality of the Dukcapil data is still not up to par. That’s why we need to conduct interviews there… The point is we would like to improve the Dukcapil data… to build one population data in Indonesia,” Dr. Suhariyanto asserts. 

Population Census Key to National Development 

The complete enumeration of the dataset obtained during the online and offline 2020 population census will be supplemented in 2021 with a full form survey and random sample respondents. The data gathered will later update the population registration data. This comprehensive, complete and up-to-date population data will be used as the basis for policy making, development planning, national programming, and monitoring and evaluation.

“We will also use the data to make population projections that span to 2050. So, population census is not only critical to current planning, but also to anticipate what would happen… The population census is critical because it’s key to policies across sectors,” Dr. Suhariyanto says. 


Richard Joanes Makalew, Population and Development Programme Specialist

Narwawi Pramudhiarta, Data and Geospatial Analyst

Megumi Uchino, Humanitarian Analyst

Dian Agustino, Communications Officer

UNFPA Indonesia