agcensus.htm

FAO STATISTICAL DEVELOPMENT SERIES
No 6
CONDUCTING AGRICULTURAL CENSUSES AND SURVEYS
FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS
ROME, 1995

CHAPTER 4

CENSUS STAFF

This chapter deals with staff requirements for conducting an agricultural census. Census staff, under the responsibility of a census coordinator, are basically composed of two categories of personnel: the census office, including professionals of various specialities, and the field personnel. The success of the census depends on the efficiency, quality and dedication of the census staff. Proper staff selection and adequate training are necessary for a successful census.

In some countries there is often a lack of two critical groups of staff: subject matter specialists and field staff. Qualified specialists in areas such as data processing are often attracted by higher salaries in the private sector and there is frequently a shortage of qualified staff in statistical offices.

Many topics covered in this publication are closely related to census staff. The attention of readers is drawn particularly to the Training Programme (Chapter 12), and to the Organization of Field Work (Chapter 15).

Introduction

4.1 The staff requirements for an agricultural census can be divided into two categories of personnel:

  1. Personnel needed for overall management of the census, planning and executing the census operations, including training of field personnel, data processing and analysis, publication and dissemination of census results. These personnel constitute the census office staff.
  2. Personnel for field operations, including data collection and supervision activities. These personnel constitute the field staff.

4.2 All members of the census staff should be given a "census identity card" which they should carry any time they participate in a census operation. This is especially important for field staff in order to establish official creditability with respondents during the data collection phase.

Census coordinator

4.3 The head of the census organization should be the national census coordinator and the leader of the census staff. This person has the overall responsibility of the census and should, therefore, be sufficiently qualified in statistics, have extensive experience in the management of large-scale statistical operations, including agricultural censuses and surveys, and be fully familiar with national agriculture.

Members of the census office

4.4 The first category of personnel in the census office would be in charge of planning the technical aspects of the data collection, analysis and publication including developing the methodology and all technical documentation, recruiting and training field staff,monitoring field operations, designing the tabulation and analysis plan, analyzing the data and drafting the final report. This category should include individuals with degrees in mathematics or statistics and formal training in statistical methods and sampling techniques. These individuals should be specialized in the following fields:

  1. Agricultural census organization and monitoring.
  2. Agricultural survey methodology and sampling techniques.
  3. Training of field staff.
  4. Quality control, data tabulation, analysis and dissemination.

Members of the census working groups should be able to deal with specialists of other fields. Some general professional staff would complete routine work, editing and checking questionnaires, and computer output, etc.

4.5 A second category of personnel in the census office includes data processing staff. Data processing could be done in the census office or in decentralized locations. A group of personnel would be in charge of all data processing aspects of the census, including the organization of data processing activities, management of data entry personnel, elaborating data entry and editing programs and tabulation programs. Where possible, these personnel should include individuals with degrees in computer science (analysts, programmers) and experience in census and survey data processing. When these staff are not available, extensive training may be necessary. In addition to these personnel, staff are needed for data entry, manual coding and editing, including correction of errors detected by computers. These staff should have at least high school education and may be recruited from successful field enumerators and supervisors.

4.6 It is desirable to develop a permanent data processing staff in order to ensure continuity and avoid having to constantly train new staff. This is not always possible considering that census data processing is usually a major task which should be completed in a short time (usually one to two years). Under the circumstances it may be advisable to seek help from other government agencies or from existing data processing agencies on a commercial basis.

4.7 Support staff including typists, clerks, accountants, and logistics personnel should complete the census office.

4.8 In large countries, a provincial agricultural census coordinator, supported by trained and experienced statistical personnel, should be appointed in each province. The provincial census coordinator should have qualifications and experience suitable for the level of responsibility in the organization of the census.

Field staff

4.9 The number of field staff required for the agricultural census is usually large. It is obvious that the success of the census in providing useful results depends largely upon the proper selection and training of these staff, considering that the agricultural census is a comprehensive technical inquiry. At the base of the hierarchy is the field enumerator whose work is monitored by local supervisors; however, it should be recognized that these enumerators are the key to the success of the agricultural census. Provincial supervisors are appointed under the national and provincial census coordinators to provide quality control and technical guidance of field work.

4.10 Most of the field staff work under difficult conditions, often in remote areas. As a result, they do not have opportunities to meet other enumerators or higher-level supervisors. Usually, enumerators and supervisors are recruited and trained locally. It is essential, therefore, that detailed and realistic instructions are given to these field staff in written form. Some suggestions in this respect are given below:

4.10.1Administrative aspects.

Administrative aspects are of vital importance for the census officers because they are closely related to the remuneration they will receive. Such details as how salaries and subsistence allowances are paid, description of the administrative forms which have to be completed, etc., should be in writing, possibly as an annex to the Instruction Manual (see Chapter 11). The place to make sure that enumerators and supervisors learn their duties, responsibilities and rights is at the training courses (see Chapter 12). Problems may arise from staff who did not understand the instructions properly and who do not receive their wages punctually, and these kinds of problems can have an adverse effect on the census work. The work schedule should be specified; it may be very flexible but will normally involve working evenings, on Sundays and holidays, and should describe the frequency of meetings with senior staff. It is not advisable to call supervisory staff to the provincial office frequently or to meetings at other places called by senior staff, as it will detract from their supervisory activities; it is preferable to meet these staff in the field as a part of their supervision.

4.10.2Period of work.

The period of work for which each type of staff is hired should be carefully planned and fixed in advance, since many problems arise when officers contemplate the possibility of the work period being extended and receiving extra remuneration. When they see the possibility of extra remuneration they may tend to work slower at the outset and then, realizing that there will be no extension, speed up too much and neglect the quality of the work. It is therefore very important that the duration of the contract be fixed in a realistic manner which can be strictly observed, and that it is stated quite clearly that the fixed periods have to be respected in order to meet work plan and budget restrictions.

4.10.3Recruitment of enumerators.

Instructions for the selection of enumerators should be detailed, starting with the basic qualifications and experience required, although it should be recognized that some judgement must be left to the supervisor. The final selection and hiring of the staff will be less subjective if made principally by means of an examination based on a model prepared in the central office (see para.4.17). The supervisor must be provided with a list of agencies which can be approached for recruiting staff and the requirements which the candidates must meet, as well as a warning of physical limiting characteristics that could limit the use of a person as an enumerator.

Enumerators

4.11 Field enumerators are key persons to the success of the agricultural census, because finding respondents and making a proper recording of each agricultural holding's structure depends largely on them. They must be enthusiastic about the value and importance of the census for national development. They must set about their task with a high sense of purpose in order to overcome holders' prejudices and suspicions and do so in such a manner that the holders gain confidence and provide correct information. Enumerators should be able to explain to people the real objectives of the census and how, by providing the facts about agriculture, the holders would be helping in the formulation of development plans and policies beneficial to themselves and to the nation at large.

4.12 The enumerators should be persons familiar with local agricultural and social conditions and be residents in the local areas, if possible, so that they can easily converse with the respondents in the local dialect. Ideally, the enumerators should have the minimum of a high school education and preferably have a knowledge of or have studied agriculture. Holders' family members are often potentially good enumerators. Village teachers (during holidays) and agricultural extension workers are usually good field enumerators. Population census enumerators, if such a census has been conducted recently, can be recruited. Good enumerators are so important that consideration should be given to the possibility of recruiting them as permanent staff. This is justified if enough regular work is available, such as data collection of annual agricultural data or other subjects: demography, labour, health surveys, etc. Permanently employed enumerators are more common in countries using time-consuming objective measurements of crop areas and yields requiring repeated visits. The workload of enumerators should be carefully assessed in order to avoid large work assignments in a short time frame which could result in poor quality data.

4.13 Successful enumerators need a number of important characteristics. They need to be tactful, conscientious, motivated to work and resourceful in handling communication problems with respondents. They should be persons who, by their attitude, can obtain the respect and confidence of the household. They could be men or women, depending on the specific country situation. They must be willing and able to work full time until the job is completed. They should be persons who will work carefully and diligently when their supervisor is not present, and who will keep the required work records. They should be able to write very legibly, particularly figures. Most data entry errors are due to illegible entries.

4.14 It is important to recruit only the most capable persons as enumerators. Simple tests designed to measure the applicant's ability to read and apply instructions, understand maps, communicate with people, record information on questionnaires accurately, and perform arithmetical operations are suggested to be used in selecting qualified candidates. They should be interviewed by a team consisting of agricultural statisticians, agricultural extension specialists and land record officers who have experience in agricultural statistics and censuses.

4.15 In difficult areas with poor communication and transport facilities, special attention should be given to recruiting enumerators within those areas. Tribal and nomadic householders should be approached tactfully. They require special consideration if accurate data are to be obtained from such a group of households. The census enumeration is a strenuous job. It is, therefore, desirable to avoid the recruitment of enumerators who are too old or too young.

Supervisors

4.16 The enumerator's work is monitored by local supervisors who control the work and provide technical guidance, and who, in turn, are supervised by provincial supervisors. Supervision of the enumerator's work is an essential requirement for the success of any census.

4.17 Supervision helps prevent carelessness and permits the early detection of errors that can be corrected while the enumeration is still in progress. Supervisors need to keep records regarding the progress of enumeration and take appropriate action whenever the work is inadequate and not performed in accordance with a predetermined time schedule. They must encourage enumerators to perform satisfactory work. Experience shows that five to ten enumerators for one local supervisor, and five to ten local supervisors under a provincial supervisor is a satisfactory workload. No savings should be attempted on the number of supervisors, particularly in countries where they have to cover large distancesand have additional duties such as the preparation of the summary of results and/or calculation of areas based on measurements, etc.

4.18 Local supervisors should have similar qualifications to those of enumerators but with a higher level of education and some administrative experience. Experienced enumerators often make good supervisors. Supervision of the agricultural census is considered to be more difficult than that of the population census because the questionnaire is more complex and the work is mainly focused in rural areas. Supervisors need to have knowledge of local conditions, customs, travel problems, language, dialects, etc. A team of senior officers engaged in the census should interview supervisory candidates, testing and screening them for specific qualities. The provincial supervisors are responsible for all technical and administrative matters in the province and must therefore be experienced officers with sound technical knowledge of agriculture and of census work and a proper understanding of the census plan.

4.19 Experience shows that supervisors should work with the enumerators through training and the start of the enumeration and be present at several early interviews with each enumerator. They could then detect deficiencies and take immediate remedial action. When the enumerators have completed one phase of their work in a locality, the supervisor reviews their questionnaires and asks them to rectify any deficient work.

4.20 Supervisors need to give special attention to checking the accuracy of the boundaries of the enumeration area. They have to travel into these areas to ensure that the administrative borders are the same as those given to them. These visits will help them in allocating enumerators to various districts and suggesting any needed variations in the publicity, financial and/or administrative work.

Organizational aspects

4.21 The principal administrative and professional staff need to be highly skilled and qualified persons. They should be recruited from personnel who are familiar with agricultural census methods and procedures and government work. A thorough training of this staff is important.

4.22 The agricultural census is an important basis for developing and improving the ongoing system of agricultural statistics. After the census is completed, the resources developed and groundwork laid by the census such as equipment and trained field staff in particular, should be used as much as possible in various other statistical surveys. In formulating plans for the agricultural census, this possibility needs to be considered, as the agricultural census is part of the overall agricultural statistical system.

4.23 Finally, the success of the collection of census data will depend on how well the work has been organized, the quality and training of field enumerators and supervisors and how the government and public organizations have been mobilized to meet the major task of a census operation.


Suggested reading

Idaikkadar N.M. (1979). Agricultural statistics: A handbook for developing countries. Pergamon Press, Oxford.