The Australian Census is self-enumerated. This means that householders are required to complete the Census form themselves, rather than having the help of a Census Collector. The Census form may be completed by one household member on behalf of others. Error can be introduced if the respondent does not understand the question, or does not know the correct information about other household members. Self-enumeration carries the risk that wrong answers could be given, either intentionally or unintentionally. The ABS has a number of ways to minimise respondent error.
Choosing suitable content
Self-enumeration imposes limits on the types of topics and questions that can be included in the Census. Topics which require complex questions or question sequencing are not suitable for a Census as the responses obtained may not be reliable. There is also the need to limit the total number of questions asked in order to minimise the amount of time it takes for a respondent to complete the Census form.
Topics are selected for inclusion in the Census following extensive community consultation. Topics are selected based on the following criteria:
Question and form design
The Census form is designed so that questions are easily understood and simple for respondents to answer. Most questions are answered by a box being marked, although some questions require written responses.
- they are of major national importance;
- there is a need for data on the topic for small groups in the population or for small geographic areas; and
- the topic is suitable for inclusion in a self-enumerated Census.
Questions are tested on focus groups to ensure they are clear, well worded and can be answered on behalf of others. The focus groups are made up of people from diverse backgrounds who are representative of the Australian population. Following the successful completion of the focus group phase, field tests are conducted in various cities and rural locations. These assist in assessing how the questions and the Census form work in a real environment.
Raising public awareness
To achieve high quality Census data it is essential that people understand the importance of being counted and of giving the right answers in the Census. Raising public awareness through advertising and community briefings contributes to high levels of participation in the Census. It helps people understand the benefits to the community of complete and accurate Census counts and minimises intentional respondent error.
The public relations campaign also aims to make people aware of the help that is available for people who have problems filling out their Census form. Help is available from the 'Census Guide' brochure, the Census web site and from the Census Inquiry Service telephone help line. This assistance helps to reduce respondent error.