LFS research and development

Developing statistical standards and best practices in survey design

The ILO Department of Statistics has an active programme of methodological research to identify and promote good practices in the collection and reporting of labour statistics. This work is done both to provide support to countries and to inform ongoing standard setting work. The research work spreads across a wide range of topics with a changing focus over time reflecting latest demands and work required to support standard setting and implementation.

A substantial body of ongoing research involves the identification of best practices in labour force survey (LFS) design. The ILO is pursuing a modular approach to LFS questionnaire design based on thorough development and testing. Such an approach seeks to enable elements of a questionnaire to be added or dropped as needed with the aim of increased flexibility over time and across countries. An initial modular LFS has been published based on a major pilot study programme undertaken between 2015 and 2017. Since then, the ILO has worked across a range of topics with the aim to identify good measurement approaches on key subjects such as work relationships, green jobs, volunteer work, education qualification and skills mismatches, labour migration and others. The ILO will seek to continue this process in collaboration with countries and other partners to build on and improve existing tools and guidance over time.

Table of contents


The ILO partners with national statistical offices from different regions of the world to ensure the tools and guidance developed are grounded in national realities and relevant to countries with different socioeconomic contexts. The ILO also works with international agencies including the World Bank, FAO, UN Statistics Division as well as development partners such as Data2x of the UN Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote wide implementation of ICLS standards across different household survey programmes and to improve knowledge sharing in survey design.

LFS pilot studies (phase 1)

Aligning national FLS with 19th ICLS standards
Between 2015 and 2017 the ILO conducted a 10-country pilot study to develop evidence on how best to update national labour force surveys to produce key headline labour market indicators on employment, labour underutilization and own-use production work, in particular subsistence food production, aligned with the new standards adopted by the International Conference of Labour Statisticians in 2013. Research findings are presented in the next section.
About ICLS

Sri Lanka pilot

Measuring labour force in multi-topic household surveys​
Through the Partnership on Women’s Work and Employment the ILO is collaborating with the World Bank and Department of Census and Statistics of Sri Lanka to undertake a joint pilot study. The aim is to compare the outcomes from different types of surveys which can be used to generate statistics on labour, in this case a Labour Force Survey (LFS) and a Living Standards Measurement Survey (LSMS). The findings will be used to develop guidance on appropriate methods for measurement of labour-related topics in different types of household surveys.
See reports

Time use

Capturing productive activities through modular time-use approaches in LFS​
Statistics on unpaid forms of work, in particular own-use provision of services, comprising unpaid care work and unpaid housework, accompany labour statistics for a better understanding of the economy and society in the 21st century. With the increasing demand for evidence-based policy making, the ILO is exploring the potential for using time-use methods that could be attached to Labour Force Surveys in a modular format to enable regular collection of time-spent in unpaid productive activities as a complement to national time-use surveys. In partnership with Data2X, project activities currently focus on designing a testing strategy for providing evidence on what works and for contributing to global work on Time-Use statistics under the leadership of the United Nations Statistics Division.

Volunteer work

Capturing volunteer work through modular approaches in LFS​
The ILO established a partnership with the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in 2017 to advance survey methods for producing statistics on volunteer work. Volunteers contribute their time and skills to help others, through organizations such as NGOs, or directly in their communities. Between 2018 and 2021 the ILO and UNV will partner with interested national statistical offices to test a module on volunteer work suitable for attachment to national labour force surveys, release updated practical guidance, and support countries to include the module in their national LFS.
See tools

Gender and informality

Integrating gender in the standards for measuring informality
The ILO Statistics Department started a three-year project to engender informality statistics, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The project is running in parallel to the broader review of standards for informality statistics and supports integration of gender in the new standards, and the development of gender-related guidance and tools for measuring informality. It involves testing of LFS questions and methods in two countries during 2021 and 2022.

Research findings

Findings from the Sri Lanka pilot study on the measurement of labour in various types of household surveys (2017 to 2019)

Measuring Women and Men’s Work: Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations from a Joint ILO and World Bank Study in Sri Lanka

This brief highlights the key lessons learned during the ILO-World Bank study in Sri Lanka. It provides recommendations for household surveys seeking to measure in line with the latest international statistical standards, in particular those adopted at the 19th ICLS.

Measuring Women and Men’s Work: Main Findings from a Joint ILO and World Bank Study in Sri Lanka

This report presents the findings of the ILO-World Bank study in Sri Lanka. It shows the key areas of inconsistency discovered between the labour force survey and multi-topic living standards survey, how those inconsistencies were addressed across a range of topics including the measurement of employment, labour underutilization and own-use production work. In addition, the report highlights the range of valuable data that can be generated when the 19th ICLS standards are applied through household surveys.

Findings from pilots studies to align national LFS with 19th ICLS standards (2015 to 2017)