DPSA worked in partnership with DFID and the Government of Pakistan to procure technology for processing highly sensitive national census information
How can you tell how much food is needed or what infrastructure and services will be required if you don’t know the number of people living in your country? And how can you anticipate the future needs of people if you don’t understand their demographics or the rate at which the population is growing?
Quantifying the exact number of citizens, and having up-to-date information on their gender, age, occupation and location, is of critical importance for national planning. With this information, governments are able to develop well-targeted education, health and infrastructure projects; map poverty; forecast tax revenues accurately; encourage growth in employment; and meet the needs of minorities and those with special needs.
In need of up-to-date data
Pakistan last undertook a national census in 1998, which showed it had a population of 132 million. Estimates for the current population ranged from 193.2 million to 204.9 million. The country’s population is the sixth largest in the world; it is expected to reach 250 million by 2030. Clearly, without accurate figures, planning decisions could be ineffectual. The Government of Pakistan therefore decided to conduct a national census in 2017.
Handling sensitive information about people and their households calls for careful management. The UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) provided UK aid from the British people to assist Pakistan in conducting the census effectively. DFID Pakistan asked DPSA to procure scanners, software, hardware and a high-volume offset printer for Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), along with supplying staff training.
The aim was to ensure that data processing could be undertaken quickly and securely, and to make the data easily available to the appropriate authorities. This would support the efficiency and effectiveness of PBS staff, increasing transparency in the process. Having confidence in the veracity of the data would help people to understand and trust the Government’s planning approaches and policies.
A satisfied client
DFID Pakistan initially approached us in March 2017. Following a streamlined procurement, the scanners, software and hardware were delivered in July and August 2017, and the printer, which needed to be specifically designed and manufactured, arrived in January 2018.
“DFID Pakistan’s Health and Nutrition team has been extremely satisfied with the services being offered under this procurement contract,” says Sherwan Asif, Programme Manager, Health and Nutrition, for DFID Pakistan. “Timely communications and flexibility to resolve issues have been very helpful and well appreciated.”
Fulfilling programme goals
So, to what do we attribute our success? Understanding the programme objectives and using these to inform our procurement strategy has been key. Through discussions with our client, we learned early on that 91,000 civilian enumerators would, by June 2017, have distributed millions of forms to citizens and collected the completed paperwork. The equipment we were procuring would be needed on completion of this data-gathering phase. This meant that time was of the essence.
We also knew that being able to process vast amounts of data would be critical to the success of the census programme. For example, the scanners had to be capable of capturing and validating data at a rate of 450,000 scans a day. The scanning software, used to assemble the paper forms into batches, had to support up to 150 logged-on users at any one time. And the printer had to be able to print 10,000 census sheets per hour. A standard office printer would not do; the scale of the task called for the capability of an offset press. It was also vital that the new equipment could work seamlessly with existing IT infrastructure at PBS’s data-processing centre in Islamabad.
Creating robust Terms of Reference
DPSA, as part of our Technical Assistance Service, called on a technology expert to examine the technical specifications in the initial Terms of Reference (TOR) provided by DFID Pakistan. “He reviewed the specifications for each item against the tasks they were needed for, and to make sure that the various pieces of equipment were compatible with PBS’s existing technology,” explains Ben Andrews, South and South East Asia Operations Manager for DPSA. “He also provided us with a critical path document, explaining exactly when each item would be needed for the census operation to run to schedule.”
This technical assistance helped the procurement team to revise the TOR in ways that would benefit both DFID Pakistan and PBS. For example, the initial TOR had outlined a high-spec offset printer. The prices, however, were such that DPSA could only have procured a second-hand model within the budget. Having reviewed the tasks the printer was needed for, our expert was able to recommend a new alternative printer that would meet the requirements, within budget and time constraints. Buying a new – rather than refurbished – model, meant it came with a robust warranty, reducing risk for the client.
The critical path document helped DPSA provide explicit timelines to potential suppliers based on the census schedule. We divided the goods into four lots to make delivery, installation and training easier. Optimising lead times meant that suppliers had additional time to provide more competitive bids
Ensuring best value for money
The tendering process involved 19 companies, from which we selected three. A Pakistan-based company supplied the scanners, while the software and hardware were procured together from a Middle Eastern company, thereby ensuring that the technologies were compatible. A well-regarded and specialist German company, partnered with an agency in Pakistan, manufactured and delivered the offset printer.
To ensure a smooth transition to the new technology, we assisted with staff familiarisation training services. Twenty personnel at PBS were trained to use the scanners, software and hardware, and ten shift supervisors underwent a ‘train the trainer’ programme. The instruction focused on specific roles; having specialised training was important for achieving the best results from PBS staff. Ten staff were trained to use the offset printer following its installation in mid-February. We negotiated with the suppliers for warranties to be included for all the goods, to ensure staff could easily resolve any problems that might occur.
Procurement you can trust
Everything ran on time and to budget, enabling PBS to conduct the census process as scheduled. Results indicate that Pakistan’s population is now close to 208 million, an overall increase of 57% since the last census two decades ago. This information will be invaluable in helping the Government of Pakistan to plan for the nation’s future.
“We worked very well with DFID Pakistan and PBS during the procurement,” says Ben. “From the outset, Sherwan and I knew the task ahead and we came up with strategies to deliver value for money for DFID and an effective end-to-end solution for PBS.”