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Apple to assist in the Ukrainian census: Why this is a bad idea?

Author : Iryna Shostak

Source : 112 Ukraine

Ukraine will be the second country in the world to conduct a census in cooperation with Apple
23:16, 1 December 2021

Open source

President Zelensky proudly announced this during his speech in the Verkhovna Rada. Like, here it is, the quintessence of digitalization: American technology will help us with calculations. And we, in turn, will save. However, experts note that the census will not be representative, and therefore - Ukraine will lose more than it gains.

Did you have to get something really high quality and expensive, while saving significantly? It is unlikely that such acts of unprecedented generosity have often happened to you. What is this analogy for? It's simple: playing in digitalization, Zelensky forgot that "digital" is not necessarily synonymous with the word "quality". And the census is an example of this.

Recently, Ukraine, represented by the Ministry of Digital Transformation, signed a memorandum with the American company Apple, which defines plans for further cooperation between the parties. One of the points was to assist the tech giant in the census in Ukraine.

It is expected that Apple will lease all the necessary equipment at the time of the census (at least, this is the pattern of the US census), which will save Ukraine significantly. By the way, the Budget Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine allocated over 3 million USD for the census itself.

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The census in Ukraine is necessary, because, as Zelensky himself points out, the people are at the center of any state transformation. When implementing legislative changes, you need to know how many Ukrainians are in the country and where they live. Especially considering the fact that the last all-Ukrainian census in Ukraine was conducted 20 years ago. And then, by the way, there were a little more than 48 million of us.

A "trial" census of Dubilet was also conducted, according to which as of January 1, 2020, 37 million 289 thousand people lived in Ukraine. This did not take into account seasonal migration, and the research method had a number of errors. For example, the data of mobile operators could be misleading due to the division of subscribers' numbers of people and machines/devices or the impossibility to tie to a certain territory people of certain professions (conductors, truck drivers) and residents of neighboring territories - users of the general base station of the mobile operator.

Experts noted that the electronic census cannot completely cover the situation, because no one in the world will accept such a study. But we are stepping on the same "rake" again. At least, based on Zelensky's statements, it can be concluded that the electronic version of the census is planned again. The so-called e-census. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.

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The President called digitalization an "unconditional priority" of the country, apparently forgetting the main thing - digitalization should be based on the technical readiness of the population and regions to support it. In other words, for the "state in the smartphone", the entire population of the country must have these same smartphones. The same applies to the "technological" census: no matter what equipment we allocate to Apple, if the grandmothers in the village do not have a smartphone or computer, this venture turns into a waste of time and budget. A person simply will not be able to join this process.

Digital census services can be complementary, but the bulk should be part of field research (for example, through live surveys). By the way, as was the case in the United States: In addition to online questionnaires, paper versions were sent to people, and technology, including GPS, only helped census workers narrow the number of addresses to visit.

It should be noted, however, that manual census is not a cheap pleasure. And one of the president’s main messages regarding cooperation with Apple is that Ukraine will be able to save money. It was not worth saving on the census, the foundation on which any strategies of the authorities "lay" - once every 10 years you can spend several billion hryvnias on a high-quality census. In addition, it has not been held in our country for 20 years. Moreover, the money allocated for it would go to salaries for people, to provide companies that would be engaged in this process. In other words, for the benefit of the country's economy.

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Economist Oleksiy Kushch notes that Zelensky’s political headquarters is unlikely to use analytical data that is collected digitally to develop its political strategies, including election strategies. After all, this is impractical.

"Most likely, they order these studies or conduct them themselves as part of field research. That is, when it comes to personal interests, they understand that field research is in the first place, and when it comes to the all-Ukrainian population census, it is possible to do it for a blunder, for show through digitalization," says Kushch.

The risks that the census will be carried out poorly are quite large. This means that there may not be a high-quality database of demographic policy either. Thus, the effectiveness of new reforms in Ukraine may be called into question.

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