The New Normal: Collecting Data Amidst a Global Pandemic - JIPS - Joint IDP Profiling Service

The New Normal: Collecting Data Amidst a Global Pandemic

By Wilhelmina Welsch (JIPS)
Related Topics: Methods, Community engagement

With the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the efforts to contain it through public health measures, social distancing, lockdown and quarantine measures, the data and assessment landscape is facing long-term impact. This could deliver the overdue push for all stakeholders providing international assistance to re-invent not only how to collect data in the coming months, but also how to make use of other types of data that is readily available beyond the classic needs assessment/survey data. The ultimate soul-searching as a collective will force us to get to the bottom of questions we have been discussing on both technical and policy level profusely over the last five years: how to be more effective and ethical with regards to data collection and analysis.

The challenges to data collection that we are already facing will not only impact the humanitarian community, but all stakeholders relying on up-to-date data for response and planning, including national governments, international and national organisations, as well as other service providers such as actors of the health and welfare systems. The humanitarian community is uniquely placed, however, to bring in their experience in operating in situations with limited or no access at all.


Credit: Ryan Carl Studio,


There is an opportunity to adapt and look to those who are relying on vast amounts of data collected remotely: market researchers, labour force statisticians among others, as well as MNOs. There will be an even more urgent need to work much closer with affected communities and reflect their realities with regards to access and use of information. Similarly, there will be a need to link up with the scientific community, especially from social sciences and econometrics, as well as modelers and demographers. There is a body of research that remains below the radar, which showcases significant progress in better understanding the explanatory power and characteristics of survey methods such as phone surveys or self-administered online surveys – beyond the every-day tools and methods used by most of us for sample-based household surveys, which we rarely fundamentally update or question.

Producing representative, disaggregated, agreed-upon, and up-to-date data on internal displacement is already challenging in protracted crises and even more so in emergencies. Our review of sampling methods in IDP contexts (coming soon!) highlights the difficulty of conducting sample-based surveys in contexts where dynamic factors influence the operational reality and target groups are difficult to find and sample for. These issues will become even more pertinent in a remotely-managed environment with little direct access to those populations.

In a new discussion paper, Wilhelmina Welsch, JIPS’ Head of Information Management and Innovation, unpacks immediate and longer-term shifts that will determine how we will work, including:


  1. Lean design: We will have to think a lot more strategically about design and analysis of the questions we need answered.
  2. Definition of secondary data: We will have to re-think the definition of and tools for analysis of Secondary Data – GitHub not Reuters.
  3. Act as a documentarian: We will have to act as documentarians with regards to our approaches, and even more importantly with regards to the challenges and gaps we face, with key elements being reducing and documenting bias as well as being cognizant of who is being left out.
  4. From face-to-face to remote technologies: We will have to shift from Face-to-Face to remote technologies – where Mixed Methods will remain key. And we cannot rush the shift.
  5. Focus on community engagement: We will have to emphasize community engagement and capitalise on Thick Data.


The document is intended as the beginning of a conversation between technical experts, and not as a guidance document. It thus does not aim to provide a comprehensive discussion of all possible methods, approaches and best practices. It rather presents a set of core assumptions that will have to be tested at a later stage for the establishment of related policies, and ultimately response, to the COVID-19 pandemic.


➡️ Read the full discussion paper

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