2010 World Programme on Population and Housing Censuses:
Sub-regional Workshops on Census Management and Mapping with GIS


United Nations Statistics Division has organized 4 regional workshops on census mapping with use of GIS: two in Africa and one each for the Caribbean region and for the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) region.

At the first workshop which took place in Lusaka, Zambia (8-12 October 2007), 14 English-speaking countries were represented, three international and regional organizations and four private companies, for a total of 28 participants. The second workshop for the African region – for French-speaking countries – took place in Rabat, Morocco (12-16 November 2007) and 10 countries, two regional and international organizations, and three private companies were represented. Representatives from governmental organizations of Morocco, producing or using geographic information, also participated, bringing the total number of participants in this workshop to 48. For the ESCAP region workshop, which took place in Bangkok, Thailand (15-19 October 2007), 16 countries and several international organizations were represented in the workshop, for a total number of 31 participants. The workshop for the Caribbean region, which took place in Port of Spain, Trinidad (22-26 October 2007) was attended by 22 participants representing 16 countries, by four participants representing some regional and international organizations, as well as by two private companies, for a total number of 28 participants.

The objectives of the workshops were to: (1) present an overview of GIS fundamentals and census geography concepts, including geo-coding systems; (2) focus on practical data collection and conversion to digital format, and on GIS-based data analysis and dissemination; (3) show practical examples of use with appropriate software; (4) facilitate a dialogue among participants from Member countries on census mapping with GIS, experiences and practices, with a focus on institutional, organizational, financial, capacity building and implementation issues; (5) present the revised United Nations Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses; and (6) discuss pertinent issues in census management and planning. For the ESCAP region, the workshop also aimed to discuss the issues related to meeting the needs for statistics in case of emergencies and for disaster management purposes.

The workshops were structured into presentations of resource persons; presentations of countries on their experiences with use of GIS in their censuses; practical exercises on the technical issues covered by the resources persons; and demonstrations on use of GIS and GPS by commercial software providers.

The workshops recognized the advantages of using GIS in all phases of a census including in the:

Given the central role of geography in census operations, it was recommended that census managers consider cartography as an integral part of the census project and not as a stand-alone activity. It was also recommended that national statistical offices should have a programme to develop GIS as a long-term project, although it was acknowledged that use of GIS entails a significant long-term investment in hardware, software as well as human capital. This allows the development of census geographic databases, statistical GIS databases, spatial analysis and tools for dissemination of census geographic products, and goes beyond the production of enumeration area maps for census enumeration and thematic maps for census publications. To this end, national statistical offices were requested to ensure that adequate resources are devoted to this.

It was recognized, however, that comprehensive GIS tools are often too expensive and require more justification for use other than the census. As a way to maximize returns to investment in GIS, it was proposed, for instance, that national statistical offices actively participate, in partnership with other national authorities, in the development of a national geographical information capacity, including the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI), a much-needed tool designed to meet a number of needs, such as spatial planning, disaster prevention and management, distribution of resources, poverty mapping and so forth..

Given the different approaches and national experiences, it was pointed out that there is no universal GIS solution that fits all and that in deciding what approach to adopt, countries should be guided by their needs and availability of resources.

A topic that was widely discussed across the workshops was the importance of continuously improving the skills of staff through training so that they may acquire expertise in the use of geospatial technologies for census geography. Recommendations on this included the need for national statistical offices to institute and maintain training programmes for national staff. In this connection, it was pointed out that the exchange of skills and best practices among countries would be an efficient means to acquire knowledge and expertise.

Another topic that was widely discussed across the workshops was retention of staff with expertise in GIS. To this end, it was recommended that national statistical offices should develop mechanisms for retaining staff with expertise in GIS.

In a number of the workshops, it was recommended that countries develop effective acquisition strategies and mechanisms, such as a regional or sub-regional regrouping of data acquisition, to reduce the costs of satellite imagery, aerial photography, GPS and hand-held devices as well as GIS hardware and software.

Some of the recommendations of the workshops were directly at the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD). For instance, UNSD was urged to continue to facilitate the exchange of national experience and to compile lessons learned including both advantages and limitations of approaches. It was also recommended that UNSD develop guidelines for census geography and also introduce a web-based facility including e-learning material for the exchange and sharing of knowledge among countries.

On the workshop evaluations, many participants indicated that the most useful element of the workshop were the presentations made by countries on their experiences with regard to use of GIS. In this context, the demonstration on the use of GIS in census mapping, particularly with the analysis and dissemination of census data was highlighted as having been very useful. It was felt that country presentations enhanced the sharing of knowledge and experience among the countries represented at the workshop. Furthermore, many participants also stated that they found the practical exercises very useful as this enabled putting into practice the theoretical presentations.


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