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Origin of IREDA

Nations have long felt the need to count their populations and although they have invested considerable sums of money for the purpose, they have unfortunately found it much less interesting to look after the results. Certain files or documents have become almost untraceable, even in their country of origin. Happily, the situation is now changing. Initiatives for saving and enhancing data collection operations were begun some years ago.

The IREDA project is the outcome of a long process of reflection on demographic observation, the fruit of the experience of Francis Gendreau and Françoise Gubry, two demographers whose professional routes have crossed several times.
Francis Gendreau, demographer at the IRD who started his research career in Madagascar where he carried out various projects of demographic data collection, was the first director of the Institut de Formation et de Recherche Démographiques (IFORD) in Yaoundé, created in 1972. Françoise Gubry taught demography at IFORD in the 1980s. Theoretical and practical training in demographic data collection was, and still is, one of the key points of the student training programme.

The two met again at CEPED, created in 1988, where the first was director, and the second, after a year of additional training as a documentalist, founded the documentation centre which still exists. CEPED is the descendant of the African Demography Group (GDA – Groupe de Démographie Africaine), in which Francis Gendreau was involved between 1965 and 1985. Researchers from INED, INSEE, ORSTOM and the French Ministry of Cooperation were brought together in an informal way by the GDA which had accorded great importance to subjects connected with the collection and analysis of demographic data and had dedicated numerous publications to them.

So it was that great attention continued to be paid to everything that concerned demographic data, parallel to the other research activities carried out by CEPED. The first publications of CEPED moreover often concerned demographic data collection and the dissemination of results. Its resource centre was the recipient of the GDA archives , the demographic archives of INSEE’s Service Coopération, and of numerous documents related to demographic operations, patiently collected by Pierre Cantrelle, an IRD demographer. The library has taken particular care to collect census printed reports.

The bibliographical catalogue has been available online since 2001, as well as the catalogue of technical documents constituting the “forms collection”. This varied group of documents (questionnaires, manuals, summaries, etc.) have been properly interpreted and classified by country and by operation; the collection is accessible on Internet and is well documented for data collection operations in French speaking African countries. It has given rise to collaboration with the IPUMS-International project of the Minnesota Population Center which aims to preserve and make comparable the microdata of censuses from the entire world.

The 7th ‘Journées Scientifiques du Réseau Démographie de l’AUF provided the opportunity to bring all this experience together and triggered the launch of the IREDA project. In fact the theme of these ‘Journées’, which took place at the University of Laval in Quebec (Canada) in June 2007, was “Mémoires et démographie: regards croisés au Sud et au Nord” (‘Memory and demography, viewpoints from North and South’). They concluded with the adoption of the “Quebec Declaration regarding the recognition, protection and development of African censuses”. Francis Gendreau and Françoise Gubry had jointly written a text for the Journées, making an inventory of the great national demographic operations in Africa entitled "L’observation démographique en Afrique. Leçons du passé, perspectives d’avenir, préservation et valorisation des opérations" (Observations in Demography in Africa, lessons from the past, future prospects, preservation and development of operations). The preparation of this text revealed that a straightforward dated list of the national demographic operations that had actually taken place was not easy to establish and that it was in fact quite rare to find precise demographic information dating back more than ten years on the websites of the statistics institutes.

From this collaboration between a research-demographer and a documentalist-demographer arose the idea of an inventory of African national demographic operations. Their initial plan was for a validated list of the operations that actually took place, with the dates of data collection. Each would be accompanied , not only by the list of official publications, but also by that of the work carried out by researchers using the statistical data. Many of these documents are available at the documentation centre of CEPED, and others at partners in the Demoneta network which is actively involved in this inventory. The project has received the support of the International Household Survey Network (IHSN), as well as other organizations such as INSEE or AUF. This has allowed it to set more ambitious goals and to integrate itself better with other projects for statistical data storage.

The ambition of the IREDA project is therefore to contribute to the development and use of national demographic data, to ease the dialogue between producers and users of data, and to be a first step towards the development of research projects. It is one of the members of the international working group “Valorisation des données démographiques nationales” (ValDemo) of CEPED, the aim of which is to develop access to data from collection operations and to develop the comparative perspective of its analysis.