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As the BPS-Statistics Indonesia made history with the first online and combined-method population census in the country, we recently talked to Dr. Suhariyanto, the BPS Chief Statistician, online. Famously known as Pak Kecuk, the outgoing and friendly official openly shared his vision for data, statistics, and development in Indonesia. 

Why is population census important for a country? 

There are two primary purposes of this population census. First, to gather data on the size of the population, the composition  (population disaggregated by age, sex, and so on), the distribution, as well as usual residence and registered residence. 

So this is the first time in Indonesia that we collaborate and use the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) data as the basic data. The CRVS data show information of registered residence, which is the population data according to ID cards. In reality, mobility is really high so we need to know the population size based on the usual residence information.

Population data is not only critical to current planning, but also to anticipate the future. For example, from the population projection in 2015 that we made with UNFPA we found that the demographic dividend in Indonesia will end in 2036 and culminate in 2021. With the COVID-19 pandemic the demographic dividend is under threat. We also found that the population size in 2045 will reach 319 million. Will we be ready to meet the food needs of 319 million people? 

The population census is critical because it’s key to policy making across sectors. 

How does the population census contribute to policy making? 

As the President once said, “The key to everything is improvement of our human resources.” So if we talk about human resources, the key is in education, health, and don’t forget, purchasing power. It’s an indicator in the development of human resources. Now in education, for example, if we can find out the composition of the population in detail, based on age, areas, and gender, we can make proper planning for things like building schools, meeting needs for teachers, and so on.  

In the health sector, we see that the ratio of doctors to population in various regions is still very low. It will affect infant mortality rate, which will impact life expectancy rate, which ultimately determines the Human Development Index (HDI). So, the policy coverage is very broad. 

How does the census support data required for disaster statistics in general? 

There are three key functions of population data in disaster statistics. First, the pre-disaster stage. If we have the number of people down to the district or village level, we will know disaster risks in each area. That way, before disasters we can mitigate risks. 

When a disaster strikes in regency A or district B we need to know the population size and the composition so that we can provide early warning. During the disaster, the population data can be the basis of identification of people impacted by the disaster. Post-disaster, we have to distribute aid. The population data can later become the basis of distribution even though that alone is not enough. 

In the future with the National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) we would like to design a standardized questionnaire that can be distributed to determine the level of damage and collect other information. 

How will the data from the census be used for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda?

Indonesia has been very committed to implementing the SDGs agenda. I must say that coordination for SDGs in Indonesia is remarkable. I don’t know about other countries, but we have a presidential regulation specifically for SDGs.

BPS and Bappenas as the leading institutions have coordinated with many other ministries and government institutions as well as the private sector. There are 17 goals in SDGs. When we talk about goal number 2, “End hunger,” for example, we need to have the data on things like rice supply in East Java and if it’s sufficient in comparison to the population size and composition.

Of course we need to support it with other data, such as the National Socioeconomic Survey (Susenas) that records the consumption rate of staple food supply per capita, and so on. I think population data is key to evaluating the progress of all SDGs.  

This is the first time for BPS to conduct an online census. What is the strategy for dissemination and public outreach like? 

In this 2020 population census, there are two fundamental and major changes. First, we use a combined method in collaboration with Dukcapil (the Population and Civil Registration Directorate General of the Ministry of Home Affairs). Second, for the first time we conduct an online population census. The work we put into it behind the scene is tremendous.  

This is the first online census, which started on 15 February to 29 May. We gathered 51.4 million responses. I think this is a really large number. Twice the size of Australia’s population... Seeing the response from 51.4 million is incredible and it shows that the Indonesian people, if you approach them correctly, are willing to participate. So, I really appreciate the public participation. 

However, 51.4 million is only 19% of the total population. Our first target was 23 percent. But there are many areas that do not have internet access. The literacy rate also has to be considered... So if you ask me, I’m not disappointed with the result. It’s not too far from the target. 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.

The main strategy was, first of all we needed to prepare robust supporting infrastructure… BPS sought support from institutions like the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (Kemkominfo), State Cyber and Crypto Agency (BSSN), and different ministries. So to generate an excellent output we cannot work on our own. Collaboration is really crucial. Coordination is also really critical, from the central to the regional level, as well as within BPS and with academics and practitioners.

Before we launched the online census, we did a road trip around campuses all over Indonesia to invite young people to sign up as volunteers to help socialize it. And then at BPS we made call centers to help with troubleshooting. 

And just as important is of course publicity to increase public participation. I asked for the President’s support in launching the census and made a special video when he was filling out the online census. We also worked with all ministers, governors, regents, and mayors. We also worked with celebrities as well as religious leaders… 

BPS also came up with a theme song entitled “Mencatat Indonesia” (Documenting Indonesia) for which we collaborated with Eros from the band Sheila on 7. We disseminated it to all provinces, who we give freedom to improvise. So if you listen to the song in Bali, you’ll hear the Balinese gamelan in it.

So there’s a lot of work involved behind the scene but I am pretty happy with the results.

What are the challenges that BPS is facing in conducting the census to mitigate during the COVID-19 pandemic?

What we have developed with support from UNFPA for the past three years, a really good business process, was disrupted. I had to reduce the budget for the population census, from Rp 4 trillion to Rp 1 trillion. So, there’s a 75 percent budget decrease. So you can imagine, we only have 25 percent of the budget and we have the COVID-19 pandemic.       

But I encourage all of our colleagues to stay optimistic and to work with what we have. First I ask our colleagues to optimize the use of information technology since it is important. We planned to hold face-to-face census training as usual at first, but we could not do that anymore. Therefore, we decided to use long distance learning. We cooperated with the (national television and radio stations) TVRI and RRI to broadcast the training every day at 4 PM. 

Following the directions from BNPB as the chair of the COVID-19 Taskforce, all census officers had to take the rapid test. When they’re in the field they have to wear masks, face shields, and gloves, as well as wash their hands and maintain physical distancing. 

Third, we changed the enumeration. We initially divided Indonesia into two areas; the PAPI (pencil & paper interview) zone and the other zone where officers conduct interviews using tablets or handphones. Now it’s not feasible anymore, so we have made changes. For Zone 3 that uses PAPI, which covers 41 regencies or cities in Papua and West Papua, we have printed the questionnaire since 2019, so the business process will go as usual. In Papua and West Papua Barat the quality of the data is still relatively poor, so to improve it we are conducting interviews there. 

For the two other zones, we avoid face to face meetings. In Zone 1, which covers 227 districts, we check the population register list, conduct door to door verification, and drop off and pick up (DOPU) the questionnaire to fill out. In Zone 2, which covers 246 districts, we check the population register list and conduct door to door verification.

These changes are inevitable due to budget efficiency as well as for prevention of COVID-19 transmission. There is surely a serious risk there, that the ideal output might not be fully achieved. But essentially we work with what we have and despite challenges we keep moving on and following health protocols.

What do you think about UNFPA’s role as a partner to BPS? What support has helped and where do you think more support is needed? 

If we look back to the past four years, UNFPA’s support for BPS since 2016 has been remarkable. I have to appreciate it. For example, in 2016 UNFPA supported two primary focus areas: the Intercensal Population Surveys (SUPAS) 2015 and humanitarian response with BNPB. 

In 2017 UNFPA also assisted us in developing the Population Projection on the basis of SUPAS 2015. At that time we had also started preparing for the 2020 population census. In 2018 UNFPA’s support for the population census became stronger. We discussed things like database registration, which also involved BNPB. In 2019 the focus was still on the 2020 population census and humanitarian response with BNPB. 

So I continue to thank UNFPA for your support—not only have you assisted BPS in improving the quality of population data, you also touched other aspects, such as socializing and communicating data in friendly ways. 

What other support do we need? We actually have made a roadmap of activities from 2021-2025. We need a lot of support for UNFPA for that. For example, we are currently conducting the first stage of the population census, which we expect to finish in 2021 and whose results we will need to analyze. In 2021 we will also have a long form with 90 questions. This is where we expect assistance from UNFPA in developing thematic analyses from the 2020 and 2021 results. We also still need to create Indonesia’s life- table computation and prepare population projections for 2050. 

In 2022 we also would like to get support from UNFPA for big data, which we have used for the past three years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Dian Agustino, Communications Officer

Richard Joanes Makalew, Population and Development Programme Specialist

 UNFPA Indonesia