Personal interviews are subject to Covid-19 protective measures
WIESBADEN - Jürgen Lenz and Oliver Grow each manage a survey office in the 2022 Census. In our interview, they tell us how they got the job, what they have to do and what the particular challenges in their job are.
Dear Mr Grow, dear Mr Lenz, both of you manage a survey office in the 2022 Census. Mr Grow, you do that in the city of Leverkusen and you, Mr Lenz, in the administrative district of Mettmann. What is a survey office – and what exactly do you do there?
Jürgen Lenz: In the census, interviewers collect data from people all over Germany. In the district of Mettmann, for example, there are 350 of such interviewers. As you cannot just send them to the respondents, their activity has to be organised centrally so that things run smoothly. This is exactly what the survey offices have to do.
The census is a large-scale statistical project. When did you start preparing it in the survey offices?
Oliver Grow: In Leverkusen, we did the first preparations for the census as early as in 2016. The actual work started in 2020. What had to be done in that year was finding rooms for a survey office and preparing job advertisements. Last year, the census was postponed by one year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant that we had to interrupt our activities. Then, in summer last year, we continued our work.
Lenz: In the Mettmann district, it was quite similar. For roughly three years, we have been cooperating with the municipalities to prepare the census. Of course, we had to interrupt our activities because of the pandemic, too.
The census is conducted every ten years. This means you are head of a survey office only temporarily. What do you do otherwise?
Grow: In my “normal” life, I am deputy head of our statistical unit. When the city of Leverkusen looked for a head of the survey office, I was quickly chosen for the post as I had done the job already in 2011. When all the census activities are finished in 2023, I will return to my normal job in our statistical unit.
Lenz: My situation is similar to Mr Grow’s. Usually I am head of the statistical unit in the Mettmann administrative district. It was an obvious choice to take this temporary job because the census is not finished when the data have been collected. At the statistical unit, we will then prepare regional evaluations of the census results.
So your normal working life is characterised by statistics, too. What do you consider as special in your job as head of the survey office?
Grow: Although the statistical unit and the survey office are closely linked with each other, they do quite different things. What we do in the survey offices has little to do with statistics as it is mostly an organisational job.
Lenz: Exactly. Working in the survey office really is a nice change from what we usually do in statistics. As survey office managers, we are right in the middle of data collection – this is something we do not have often in the statistical units. In addition, the job is quite varied and you never know what the day will bring.
Many interviewers will be involved in the 2022 Census. How do you find people who are interested in the job?
Grow: In Leverkusen, some 12,000 people will be interviewed. To do that, we need about 120 to 125 interviewers. We contact mainly municipal staff to recruit them. In addition, we campaign in volunteer agencies and, of course, on social media. Based on my experience from the last census, I am quite confident that we will find our interviewers quickly.
Lenz: We have a similar approach. The difference is that in the Mettmann district we have about four times as many respondents, so that we need more interviewers – approximately 350 people. What might cause problems here is the Covid-19 pandemic. We won’t be able to prevent interviewers from falling ill. So we will have a pool of interviewers in reserve that can help out in case of need.
In what way and for how long will the interviewers be prepared for the interviews?
Grow: All interviewers will be trained by us in advance. There are precise requirements that have been established for such training by the statistical offices of the Länder and the Federal Statistical Office. I expect training to take a total of three to five hours.
Lenz: In any case, training will be more complex than in 2011. One of the reasons is the Covid-19 pandemic. We expect that some respondents will have a more critical attitude towards government measures. So we also prepare our interviewers to deal with emotional discussions.
What exactly do you advise the interviewers to do in a situation like this? Or in a situation where they are turned away at the door?
Lenz: It does not happen often that people shut the door in your face or that they insult you. Most people are very cooperative. But of course there are people who have questions or reservations regarding the census, and that is okay. In such cases, it has always been helpful to explain calmly and objectively what the census is good for.
The census will be held under the special circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. What do you do, in your function as head of the survey office, to protect both the interviewers and the interviewees?
Grow: Of course we will observe any sanitary measures applicable at the time and we will train our interviewers accordingly. In addition, we will provide our interviewers with masks, disinfectants and other equipment for effective protection from infection. In Leverkusen, we have also decided that all our interviewers have to be vaccinated or to have recovered from Covid-19.
Lenz: The same applies in our district: all interviewers either have to be vaccinated against Covid-19, or have to have recovered, and they have to observe the sanitary measures applicable. We want to make things as safe as possible. Thanks to our online first strategy, household surveys take just a few minutes, which further reduces the infection risk.
You just mentioned the online first strategy used in the census. A large number of the survey questions can be answered online. Besides the lower infection risk, what other advantages does it have for your work?
Lenz: Online first means that the questionnaires will usually be completed via the internet this year. Paper questionnaires will be an exception, not least because of environmental aspects. It was the other way round in 2011. In that year, the interviewers often conducted the complete interviews in the respondents' dwellings. This year, they will ask a few short questions, for example about the name and date of birth, at the front door and then will hand over the login details for the online questionnaire. The online questionnaire offers much more help than a paper questionnaire. Only questions that are relevant to a respondent are shown. This is why the online first strategy will make it easier to answer the questions.
Grow: Apart from that, both technology and the way people use it have changed a lot over the last eleven years. Almost everyone uses the internet today and nearly everybody has a smartphone or tablet at home. Therefore, the online first strategy is also in line with what people expect from modern administration.
Data protection is a subject closely connected with the census. The people answering census questions entrust sensitive personal information to you. What do you do to protect these data?
Lenz: Data protection is of vital significance for official statistics and was already an important area of concern in the 2011 Census. But requirements have grown since then. The General Data Protection Regulation, for instance, has elevated data protection to new levels in many areas. Data protection is at the forefront of our mind in everything we do. Therefore, we select our interviewers very carefully, for example. We will rely on city employees and municipal volunteers, that is, on people whose reliability and integrity we can trust. We carry out comprehensive checks on all candidates and even request a certificate of good conduct, where required. We also take care that the interviewers are not deployed within their own residential areas and that their professional background is not in conflict with their interviewing activity. Our online first strategy also strengthens data protection because the respondents can answer questions about education, employment and occupation on their own without requiring the help of an interviewer.
Grow: I would like to add that no citizen will be allowed to enter the core areas of the survey offices. This way there is no danger that unauthorised people might access census data, for example, if documents are left on a desk. Separate areas will be set up for citizens who would like to have a personal conversation. And if I may come back to the 2011 Census, it simply is a fact that IT security in our administrative authorities has much improved in the last ten years.
Thank you very much for the interview!
Further information on the 2022 Census, factsheets and pictures for reproduction are provided at www.zensus2022.de.
If you are interested, we will be pleased to find you interview partners to discuss census issues.
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For further information: www.zensus2022.de/contact