Labour Force Survey (LFS) Pilot Study Programme

Implementing international standards of the 19th ICLS


The Labour Force Survey (LFS) Pilot programme is an ILO initiative to support the implementation of the international standards on statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization recently adopted by the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians .

Launched in 2015, the programme promotes collaboration between the ILO Department of Statistics and National Statistical Offices to conduct research in survey design, with the main aim to:

  • Develop guidance for countries on how best to align their national labour force surveys with the new international standards;
  • Promote the sharing of good practice in LFS methodology among countries around the world; and
  • Foster greater comparability in labour market statistics across countries.

The programme also indirectly aims to raise awareness of the standards both among National Statistical Offices and key data users. This awareness is critical to build support for countries to undertake the work of implementing the standards.

During the first phase of the programme, the ILO Department of Statistics partnered with the National Statistical Offices of 10 countries from different regions of the world, to implement small-scale pilot studies focusing on the measurement of employment, labour underutilization and participation in own-use production work according to the new ICLS standards.

In the news

Is there a sexist data crisis?
There’s a mind-boggling amount of work women do that we literally can’t quantify

See also

Why it matters

Labour force statistics are an essential tool to inform a wide range of national economic and social policies. To improve the scope and relevance of these statistics to inform emerging policy priorities, in 2013 new recommendations were adopted by the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians. These recommendations seek to expand national systems of work and labour force statistics so as to:

  • Fully capture women and men’s participation in all forms of work, paid and unpaid, including assessing differences in their access to full and productive employment, as well as in providing unpaid services for the household.
  • Provide a more comprehensive measurement of participation in subsistence activities, particularly in agriculture and fishing for own final use, which remain poorly accounted for in official statistics.
  • Capture problems of underutilization, including discouragement affecting in particular youth and persons living in rural areas.
  • Improve the overall statistical base of countries to support a more targeted monitoring of participation and access to labour markets related to the creation of more and decent jobs as well as the reduction of inequality and social exclusion through different forms of work.

The ILO pilot study programme develops evidence-based guidance for countries on how to align their LFS with the new international statistical standards, taking into account their socioeconomic context and existing LFS practice. 


Why new international standards on statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization?

For many years, countries based their official statistics on the labour force, employment and unemployment on international standards agreed by the 13th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) in 1982. The 1982 standards played a critical role in providing a stable conceptual framework as a reference point for development of systems of labour force statistics, and labour force surveys in particular. However, over a long period of time, strong demand from users emerged for an update of the framework to provide for an enhanced range of statistics.

Many countries reacted to these demands by adapting their own labour force surveys to provide additional indicators. The combination of emerging needs and accumulated national experience in adapting the standards created increasing demands for a review.

What is the aim of the new standards?

In response to these demands, new standards were adopted by the ICLS in 2013 to enable more comprehensive statistical measurement of participation of all persons in all forms of work, paid and unpaid, and in all sectors of the economy.

Measuring work in official statistics: The new international standards

The new standards put forward an innovative framework that recognizes all productive activities, paid and unpaid, as “work” and provide definitions for different forms of work including a more refined definition of employment as “work for pay or profit”; and new measures of labour underutilization to be used together with the unemployment rate. It also includes new definitions to measure participation in volunteer work, in unpaid trainee work, and in own-use production work, that covers unpaid work producing goods and providing services intended mainly for the household or family. See concepts, definitions  and guidelines.

Follow-up Activities

Activities to revise and update national data collection practices to be in line with the new standards are already underway in a number of countries and regions around the world. To support these efforts, the 19th ICLS called on the ILO to conduct further conceptual and methodological work, including testing as well as to promote the sharing of good practices among countries. As a result, in 2015 the ILO Department of Statistics launched a Labour Force Survey pilot study programme. 


The pilot studies use an experimental design to test and compare alternative model questionnaires that have been aligned with the new ICLS standards. The main objective is to test different sequences of questions to improve the measurement of employment, unemployment and other indicators of labour underutilization, as well as participation in own-use production work, such as subsistence farming and fishing, fetching water and firewood, housework, care for family members, etc. in different socioeconomic contexts.

Five alternative questionnaires have been developed for testing. The questionnaires are based on the most common approaches used in national labour force surveys by countries from different regions of the world, thus ensuring that existing good practice is taken into account and shared across countries and regions, as relevant.

Following good practice in survey development, the pilot studies combine both qualitative and quantitative assessment methods, in particular cognitive interviews and survey field tests, to evaluate how well the alternative model questionnaires perform in different cultural and socioeconomic contexts and among different groups of the population, in particular, women and men, and persons living in urban and in rural areas.

As per the testing protocol, each pilot country will test two of the model questionnaires. The models to be tested in each country have been selected to ensure that one is closest to their national practice and the second maximizes comparisons in each region. This approach supports the main objectives of the programme and at the same time provides participating countries with an opportunity to reflect on possible strategies to implement the new standards in their national practice.

During the qualitative assessment, cognitive testing is used to evaluate how respondents understand selected survey questions, how they recall the information requested, and how they decide on and formulate their answers. Cognitive evaluation serves to identify possible specification and other types of measurement errors that are due to questionnaire design.

During the quantitative assessment, small-scale survey field tests are used to evaluate how valid and reliable (that is, how consistent) the alternative questionnaires are in classifying persons as employed, unemployed, own-use producers, etc. The main emphasis of the field tests is to examine validity and consistency in measurement at different times of the economic cycle; across rural and urban areas; and between women and men, youth and adults. For this, the selected households are visited twice, during the planting and harvesting periods. Operational issues relevant for frequent large-scale survey implementation will also be documented during this part of the assessment.

Partners and activities


The ILO is working with the National Statistical Offices of 10 countries from different regions of the world to implement the pilot studies:

The implementation of phase 1 of the programme is financed by the ILO Department of Statistics with support from partnerships with the UN Foundation, the African Development Bank and the ILO Country Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. All participant countries have provided substantial input and human resources to support the programme while some countries are also directly funding the field tests. The ILO expresses gratitude to all partners and participant countries for their commitment to the pilot study programme.

To promote coordination among international agencies and support the broad implementation of the international standards on statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization adopted by the 19th ICLS, the ILO is also actively involved in several partnerships, including: Data2x: Women’s, Work and Employment.


The pilot study programme was launched in May 2015 with a 4-day Training of Trainers Workshop for pilot countries held at ILO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. During the programme implementation, the ILO is collaborating with pilot countries through missions to provide direct technical assistance, capacity building through training for technical and field staff, and observer participation in the cognitive interviews and field tests. 

The main results of the qualitative and quantitative evaluation were discussed with pilot countries in a Validation Workshop at the end of 2016. Based on the outcomes of the Validation Workshop, a first set of Practical Recommendations were made available in 2017. 

Calendar of activities

November 2016
• Pilot Studies Analysis Workshop, ILO, Geneva 

September 2016
• Cameroon – Field test, wave 1

July 2016
• Ecuador — Field test, wave 2

June 2016
• Peru — Field test, wave 2 
• Namibia — Field test, wave 2 

May 2016
• Ecuador — Field test, wave 1 
• Philippines — Field test, wave 2 

April 2016
• Ivory Coast — Field test, wave 1
• Kyrgyz Republic — Field test, wave 2
• Vietnam — Field test, wave 2 

March 2016
• Moldova — Field test, wave 2 

February 2016
• Tunisia – Field test, wave 1
• Namibia — Field test, wave 1

December 2015
• Philippines — Field test, wave 1

November 2015
• Kyrgyz Republic — Field test, wave 1
• Moldova — Field test, wave 1
• Peru — Field test, wave 1
• Vietnam — Field test, wave 1 

October 2015
• Cameroon — Cognitive Interviews

September 2015
• Ecuador — Cognitive Interviews
• Peru — Cognitive Interviews
• Philippines — Cognitive Interviews
• Tunisia — Cognitive Interviews
• Vietnam — Cognitive Interviews

August 2015
• Ivory Coast — Cognitive Interviews
• Kyrgyz Republic —Cognitive Interviews
• Namibia — Cognitive interviews

July 2015
• Moldova — Cognitive Interviews

May 2015
• Training of Trainers Workshop, ILO, Geneva 

Main findings from the ILO LFS pilot studies: Statistical methodology series

ILO LFS pilot studies in follow up to the 19th ICLS: Background, objectives and methodology
Background, objectives and methodology
ILO LFS pilot studies cognitive interviewing tests: Methodology, process and outcomes
Cognitive interviewing tests
ILO LFS pilot studies experimental field tests: Methodology, process and outcomes
Experimental field tests
Measuring employment in labour force surveys: Main findings from the ILO LFS pilot studies
Measuring employment in LFS
Measuring working time and time-related underemployment in labour force surveys: Main findings from the ILO LFS pilot studies
Measuring working time
Measuring unemployment and the potential labour force in labour force surveys: Main findings from the ILO LFS pilot studies
Measuring unemployment and the potential labour force
Measuring main activity in labour force surveys: Main findings from the ILO LFS pilot studies
Measuring main activity in LFS