In today’s ever-changing world, where data-driven decision-making is key, a census is one of the most critical surveys a state conducts. At the end of a tumultuous year of COVID restrictions and lockdowns in 2020, the Sultanate of Oman completed a fully-register-based census on their first try. Thus, allowing the country to run a one-click census at any time and react to population changes quickly and efficiently.
Throughout time, census data has been used to inform and direct policy. However, how censuses are conducted has changed with the advancement of technology. In 1440, the Incas, who didn’t have a written language, used a system of knots on strings made from llama or alpaca hair to record census data and administer their empire. In 2020, 580 years later, Oman conducted a fully-register-based census with all three registries on their first try. Oman’s method was even highlighted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) as an international model of shifting from a traditional census to a register-based census (source 1).
In the past 20 years, Oman has put a strong emphasis on digitalization. As a result, the country’s eGovernment Development Index has risen from 0.3548 (rank 98) in 2003 to 0.7749 (rank 50) in 2020 (source 2). The one-click census is another excellent example of this digital transformation journey.
Oman conducted its first census in 1993, with subsequent censuses in 2003 and 2010. The traditional census has two main drains — time and money. It costs a lot to conduct and takes time to get the results. The 2010 census combined door-to-door visits by enumerators and an online questionnaire. In total, close to 6,600 people were involved in the process, with costs ranging from salaries, transportation, and per diems to post-census analysis and publication costs. In addition, much of the data entry and processing was manual, opening it up to errors.
For the 2020 census, Oman was forward-thinking and embraced innovation fully. The National Center for Statistics and Information worked closely with Nortal to plan the data processing strategy, architecture design and develop the e-Census project. As a result, the Sultanate became one of a few countries at the global level and the first in the Arab world to conduct a census that relied entirely on data collection through administrative records. The data obtained and the indicators provided by the census are vital for enhancing Oman Vision 2040 and have important implications for the developmental planning of all sectors of the Sultanate (source 3).
This approach takes advantage of the input received from various administrative registers. The data is cross-referenced using advanced extract, load, and transformation practices to obtain the necessary information for census readiness.
A key goal of the e-Census 2020 project was to implement population, housing, and establishment hubs that update in near real-time — as soon as an entry is made into the administrative registers. Together with the ambitious team at National Center of Statistical Information (NCSI), Nortal successfully established common data exchange standards, which were used by 24 administrative registers that provided data for the census.
On December 14, 2020, His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik endorsed the results of the e-Census 2020 of Population, Residences and Establishments, which showed that as of December 12, 2020, the population of the Sultanate stood at 4,471,148. Despite the outbreak of COVID-19, the e-Census 2020 was executed on schedule.
Oman became the first nation in the Arab world to count successfully and simultaneously all three of its main registers in a single census on the first attempt. The United Nations Population Fund describes Oman’s census as a global model for the transition from traditional censuses based on field surveys to censuses based on national administrative records.
Oman’s fully-register-based census boasted a data quality of 95%, with more than 100 million records processed. It has been theorized that about 23 million USD was saved by switching to a fully-register-based census, most of which resulted from having just 74 employees working on the census compared to 6,000+ staff in 2010.
Oman became the first country in the GCC to achieve a 100% register-based census in 2020.
The e-Census is only the first step. It provides policymakers with crucial information for understanding population changes in different regions and categories to be able to plan for the future.
Furthermore, it allows the government to communicate with its citizens proactively, based on their needs, preferences, and life events, such as marriage or birth of a child. For example, birth data allows the government to automatically share information about benefits and other helpful information for new parents. Or in relation to higher education, the government can use data about university students and their specializations to plan jobs and other employment enablement plans for the youth entering the job market.
Designing and implementing proactive services allows the government to increase engagement and offer excellent value to its citizens and residents.
1 Source: Oman Observer: https://www.omanobserver.om/article/808/Local/oman-a-model-in-shift-to-register-based-census-un
2 Source: UN E-Government Knowledgebase: https://publicadministration.un.org/egovkb/en-us/Data/Country-Information/id/127-Oman/
3 Source: E-Census for Population, Residences & Establishments 2020: https://ncsi.gov.om/Elibrary/LibraryContentDoc/ben_Executive%20Summary%2001_c1cfdb4e-ea63-4c76-aa1b-b75aa10ba1ab.pdf