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ABS Using Operations Research to Improve Efficiency and Effectiveness of Business Surveys
The ABS and the world around us is becoming more complex. Huge numbers of choices and relentless time and cost pressures make the decisions we face more daunting and more difficult. Meanwhile, our systems are generating massive amounts of data about how we do our business providing us with opportunities for independent and objective evaluation of our processes. For example, the introduction of a centralised Provider Management Information System (PIMS) for recording all contacts made to providers in Business surveys has given us the opportunity to objectively analyse and improve the effectiveness of intensive follow-up (IFU) processes. The Operations Research Unit (ORU) was established within the Statistical Support Branch in July last year and is tasked with taking advantage of this and other similar opportunities to answer questions such as:
Investigations to date have centred around the annual Economic Activity Survey (EAS) and two sub-annual surveys - the Average Weekly Earnings Survey (AWE) and the Quarterly Economy Wide Survey (QEWS). Generally the IFU strategies for these and other collections involve the use of reminder letters and follow-up phone calls. However, the number and timing of these letters and phone calls relative to the due date varies considerably. For example, some collections use pre-approach letters, some quarterly collections have up to four reminder letters, while some annual collections may only have two. The length of the IFU cycle varies from collection to collection and the overall response rate or imputation rate required by each collection also differ. Within each collection, contact of providers is usually prioritised by significance. This significance is assigned based on different factors for each collection. Providers are called randomly throughout the day without regard as to whether some times are better to call particular providers or not.
Investigations into EAS, QEWS and AWE contact data have identified a number of patterns that can be used by the Provider Contact Unit (PCU) to improve effectiveness of the IFU processes. For example, it was found that:
Analysis of existing contact data is not sufficient to determine whether proposed modifications to follow-up strategies actually result in expected improvements and to ensure that these changes do not compromise the quality of statistics collected. In order to do that, carefully controlled experiments that allow alternative strategies to be tested and if necessary modified are required. Currently, two trials are planned to test alternative dates for phone follow-up in QEWS and EAS collections. These trials will allow the level of improvement to be quantified and if successful will enable evidence-based changes to IFU strategies for these collections.
Future work will concentrate on following up the results of the trials and expanding the research to more surveys. Further work is also planned on details relating to reminder letter timing, the use of pre-approach letters, extensions, significance flags and more control of call patterns.
For further information, please contact Louise Gates on (02) 6252 6540.
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