1001.0 - Annual Report - ABS Annual Report, 2005-06  
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Contents >> Section 5 - Performance Information >> Chapter 9 - Engagement with users of statistics

Chapter 9 - Engagement with users of statistics

INTRODUCTION

For the ABS to be able to make a valuable contribution to informed decision making, research and discussion, the organisation needs to ensure that the statistical services provided meet user needs, are timely and of high quality, and are accessible and understandable to users in government and the broader community. Thus, the ABS places considerable importance on building close relationships with users, understanding these needs, and being responsive to these needs.

The ABS engages with users in may ways, including:

    • executive level meetings with key users
    • participation in groups where statistical requirements may be discussed
    • formal user and advisory groups established by the ABS
    • partnerships on statistical activities
    • consultations on statistical developments
    • outposted officers to key clients
    • training courses assisting users in understanding and using ABS statistics, and
    • informal ad hoc assistance and discussions.
EXECUTIVE LEVEL MEETINGS

In 2005–06, ABS senior managers met with their counterparts in other organisations to discuss strategic statistical issues. These meetings gave ABS the opportunities to discuss emerging issues, and associated needs for data, and complemented other discussions with a more operational focus.

Examples of meetings held with other agencies in 2005–06 are given below.

There were a number of meetings with executives in the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, with discussion covering issues around labour force participation, the expected impact of the new workplace relations arrangements, estimates from the Labour Force Survey for Indigenous Australian people, and the information needs around skills shortages. The latter issue became a key focus after COAG, and is discussed further in chapter 11.

A meeting with the Department of Communication, Information Technology and Arts, covering the key policy drivers, revealed a substantial use of statistics by that agency, and a range of additional data needs. The need for regional data regarding Internet activity and use was the most significant data gap raised.

A Strategic Liaison Committee has been established between the ABS and the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources (DITR). A number of initiatives were agreed to at the first meeting of the committee, including the preparation of a DITR statistical priorities paper.

A meeting was held with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Bureau of Rural Sciences to discuss a range of issues including: the creation of the Centre for Environment and Energy Statistics Advisory Board; the ABS role in water accounting; plans for the 2005– 06 Agricultural Census; and plans for the Natural Resource Management Survey.

An agency heads meeting with the Department of the Environment and Heritage covered issues around the establishment of a national environment statistics system. (see chapter 3 for more information)

Meetings with the Department of Health and Ageing covered a range of statistical developments in the health field, including mental health and nutrition surveys.

Meetings with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs about data needs for migrant statistics, which led to the development of a joint statistics working group (see further discussion below).

Executive level staff in ABS regional offices met with senior state government officials as part of determining the state statistical priorities for discussion at the annual State Statistical Forum (see below for details).

Senior ABS staff met with the Secretary of the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance to discuss statistical priorities for the Victorian Government, especially in relation to government financial statistics and taxation arrangements.

A forum with South Australian State and Local Government senior personnel was convened in February 2006 to enable a clear understanding of the ramifications of the current South Australian geographic systems, in regard to the delivery of quality statistical information for South Australian decision making in the future. There was a particular focus on rural addressing issues. The creation and use of mesh blocks and the use of the ABS address coder were also addressed.

Senior staff from the Western Australian office of the ABS met with representatives of the Western Australia Department of Industry and Resources to discuss their statistical needs, including capital stocks estimation and conducting a mining industry survey on royalties. In response to the first issue, the ABS will participate in a newly formed Technical Reference Group working on 'Understanding the WA economy – a productivity analysis'. The second issue is likely to impact on ABS national mining statistics and will be addressed through an ABS outposting to the department late in 2006.

PARTICIPATION IN GROUPS

The ABS participated in a range of groups set up by or with other organisations. In these groups, ABS staff contributed to discussion on statistical issues, and gained an understanding of the context in which statistics would be used, supporting policy development and other decision making processes.

The ABS is represented on the National Health Information Group (NHIG). A number of health information committees report to NHIG on progress against their workplans, particularly the specific activities that are funded by health ministers; on implementation of electronic health records (and related statistical implications); and on the development of national minimum datasets, standards and classifications.

ABS is also represented on the National Community Services Information Management Group and contributed to the development of the National Community Services Information Strategic Plan 2005–09, which was endorsed by the Community Services Ministers' Advisory Council in November 2005.

The Australian Statistician is a member of the Australian State of the Environment Committee, which is mandated to provide an independent report on the State of the Environment.

ABS is involved in the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council as part of a Working Group looking at the management of scientific data and information.

ABS acts as an advisor to the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) sub-group Performance Measurement and Reporting Taskforce, and is a member of the National Training Statistics Committee.

Some of other groups that the ABS has been involved in are:
    • Health Statistical Information Management Committee
    • National Advisory Group on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Information
    • National Land and Water Resources Audit Advisory Council
    • Working Group on Improved Environmental Reporting Systems in Australia
    • Commonwealth, State and Territory Advisory Committee on Innovation
    • Regional Whole-of-Government Deputy Secretaries Committee
    • Tourism Research Committee and Tourism Industry Advisory Panel
    • Report on Government Services Steering Committee.
USER AND ADVISORY GROUPS

The ABS has an extensive range of user and advisory groups that discuss issues relating to the ABS statistical program. The full range of groups is listed in Appendix 2.

As mentioned earlier, the Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC) meets twice a year to provide directions and priorities regarding Australian statistical needs. (see chapter 2)

The State Statistical Forum, consisting of all the state and territory government representatives from ASAC, meets once a year to advise on the state and territory statistical priorities. In preparation for the State Statistical Forum, ABS state and territory offices undertake extensive consultation with state/territory government departments on their statistical needs.

While many of the other ABS advisory groups have been operating for a number of years, 2005–06 saw an increase in the range of groups, following renewed focus on building relationships with users. In this period, the following groups met for the first time:
    • Advisory Group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Statistics
    • Demography Statistics Advisory Group
    • Productivity Measurement Reference Group
    • Centre of Environment and Energy Statistics Advisory Board (with additional user groups for Energy, Land, Water and Household Reporting also convened).
In addition, the Research and Development Statistics User Advisory Group and Input Output User Group were reformed in 2005–06.

PARTNERSHIPS – USING ABS DATA

The ABS forms partnerships with organisations using ABS data to extend the use of statistics by assisting users and understanding their needs, particularly in relation to policy development. Some significant initiatives, undertaken in partnership with clients and other stakeholders, are highlighted below.

MIGRANT STATISTICS

The ABS expanded its focus on migrant statistics in 2005–06. The ABS worked with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to determine their data needs and priorities, through a joint statistics working group, which met regularly. This exercise has led to an agreement to establish a jointly managed and funded national Migrant Statistics Unit. (see chapter 5 for more information)

MESH BLOCKS AND AGRICULTURAL STATISTICS

The ABS established a partnership agreement with Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the National Water Commission to contribute to the cost of mesh block coding of farms included in the Agricultural Census. This project is described further in chapter 4.

The ABS has entered into an Agency Agreement with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) for a collaborative data dissemination approach, which involves the release of detailed ABS Agricultural Census and Survey data on the ABARE web site via an interactive product called AGsurf.

QUEENSLAND CENSUS PARTNERSHIP

The ABS and the Queensland Office of Economic and Statistical Research (OESR) senior executives formed a 2006 Census Partnership Project Board and have met regularly over the last 12 months. The objective was to ensure the most accurate count possible was achieved. This partnership approach ensured that both levels of government were working collaboratively to achieve this common goal.

Results to date have been extremely positive with a complementary media campaign, strong engagement across state government in the use of their networks and facilities to progress the promotion of the census and, in particular, the special enumeration strategies.

NORTHERN TERRITORY STATISTICS

In December 2005, the ABS and the Northern Territory Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed at strengthening the relationship between the Northern Territory Government and the ABS. This MoU provides a framework for working on specific areas of mutual interest, including 2006 Census enumeration and subsequent population estimates, as well as statistical coordination. Subsequently, a Northern Territory Government Census Steering Group was established to see that strategies are implemented to assist with the census operations.

Image: The Australian Statistician, Dennis Trewin, signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Northern Territory Government

The Australian Statistician, Dennis Trewin, signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Northern Territory Government, represented by the Chief Minister, the Hon. Clare Martin. Robyn Elliott, Regional Director, ABS NT, Jennifer Prince, NT Under Treasurer, and Tony Barnes from the NT Treasury look on.

COLLABORATIONS

In 2005–06, the ABS entered into several trial projects with other organisations involving analysis of microdata from business surveys. These collaborations are described further in extended analysis of statistics (see chapter 14).

SUB-STATE/COMMUNITY INDICATORS

In recent years, a number of state and territory governments have started developing sets of indicators covering a broad range of issues, including economic, population, wellbeing and environmental measures, to enable assessment of progress against priority areas for their jurisdictions. The ABS has been working closely with each of the state and territory governments in the development of these indicators, providing advice on possible data sources, and assisting with any issues on availability and quality. Examples of the indicator sets are: Tasmania Together; South Australian Strategic Plan; and Growing Victoria Together.

In 2005–06, the ABS initiated a project to take stock of the range of sub-state and community indicator work happening at the state/territory level, with a view to establishing good practice in supporting this work. Plans have been developed for a workshop in September 2006 involving state/territory government representatives, and invited national and international experts. The aim of the workshop is to identify future developments as well as clarify the role of the ABS and other parties in this field of statistical work in Australia.

CONSULTATIONS

There is an extensive program of consultations carried out by the ABS, to get the views of users about aspects of the ABS' work.

Consultations were held as part of the development of several Information Development Plans (IDPs). The work on IDPs is described in more detail in the section on assistance to users of statistics (see chapter 11).

Users of ABS statistics were consulted in relation to a range of other reviews and developments, including:
    • plans for the outputs from the 2006 Census of Population and Housing
    • redevelopment of the established house price index (with Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Australia)
    • review of strategic statistical issues for future national health surveys
    • review of statistical geography in NSW
    • proposal to merge activities associated with the Business Longitudinal Database and the Business Use of IT and Innovation Surveys
    • review of the conceptual basis of the Venture Capital Survey
    • review of user requirements for the Service Industry survey program
    • development of content of the 2006–07 Agricultural Survey and the 2006–07 Natural Resource Management Survey
    • user needs for information from the Vineyards Survey (with the Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation and the Grape & Wine Research & Development Corporation)
    • development of a land parcel methodology to collect land and possibly natural resource management statistics
    • review of adequacy of data outputs from monthly retail trade, quarterly business indicators and new capital expenditure, and
    • review of adequacy of data from crime victimisation surveys.
Regarding the merging of surveys with the Business Longitudinal Database, there was a high degree of user acceptance for these plans, especially regarding the increased capacity for users to view data on the various drivers for productivity growth in association with a longitudinal view of the microdata.

OUTPOSTINGS

Another way the ABS achieves its objective of user engagement is by outposting statistical officers to Australian, state and territory government agencies with a view to facilitating access to, and understanding of, statistics, and strengthening statistical coordination across these bodies.

While many outposting arrangements are ongoing, covering a wide range of issues, others are for short periods to assist with specific projects. A number of short-term outposting arrangements are discussed further in the section on assistance to producers of statistical services (see chapter 11).

A review of outpostings related to population statistics was conducted during 2005–06. As a result of the review, the ABS will seek to use outpostings more strategically, that is as a means of building relationships between the ABS and the agency, and ensuring statistical directions are aligned with the needs of these agencies.

TABLE 9.1: AGENCIES WITH LONG-TERM ABS OUTPOSTED OFFICERS, 2005–06

Level of government Number in 2004–05Number in 2005–06List of outposted officers in 2005–06

Australian87Australian Taxation Office
Department of Education, Science and Training
Department of Employment and Workplace Relations
Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Department of Health and Ageing
Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources
Productivity Commission

State and Territory612ACT Chief Minister's Office x 2
ACT Treasury
NSW Premier's Department
NT Department of Employment, Education and Training
NT Parks and Wildlife Service/NT Tourism Commission
NT Treasury
SA Department of Trade and Economic Development
SA Department of Health
Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance and the Department of Premier and Cabinet
Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Department of Primary Industries
WA Department of the Attorney General


In addition, an officer worked with the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at Melbourne University on the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia project and another outposted officer worked on the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children with the WA Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (see chapter 11 for more information).

TRAINING COURSES

The ABS conducts a range of training courses to assist users in understanding ABS statistics. These courses can also be beneficial to the ABS staff conducting them as they provide an opportunity to discuss user needs and concerns.

The National Statistical Training Institute in the ABS, along with the State/Territory Statistical Services units in each regional office, coordinated the development and presentation of a wide range of training courses on statistical issues in 2005–06. The Institute was launched in 2003–04 to provide high quality statistical training for both ABS staff, and for external agencies as part of the National Statistical System.

TABLE 9.2: NATIONAL STATISTICAL TRAINING INSTITUTE TRAINING COURSES CONDUCTED IN 2005–06 FOR USERS OF ABS STATISTICS

Course
Number of participants from other agencies

Turning Data into Information
221
Making Quality Informed Decisions
117
Basic Statistical Analysis
55
Understanding Demographic Data
42
Understanding Labour Statistics
41
Basic Survey Design
74
Principles of Questionnaire Design
44


There were also seminars conducted after the release of Australian Social Trends and other key publications. In addition, some areas gave tailored training for particular clients. Examples included:
    • National Accounts training for Northern Territory government officers,
    • Supertable Training for Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, to assist in accessing and utilising Labour Force Survey datacubes more efficiently, and
    • Statistics for Policy Writing for the South Australian Government.
INFORMAL ASSISTANCE AND DISCUSSIONS

Many areas in the ABS have discussions with users of statistics, particularly through the National Statistics Centres (NSCs). The NSCs have been established to provide expert assistance to users in a designated field of statistics and to ensure that the ABS developments in each of these fields are forward looking and aligned with key user needs. Staff in NSCs have expertise in matters of policy, issues and developments in their field and build close links with relevant clients. Their role is to contribute to the development of statistics in the national and international contexts, within their field.

Some examples of the assistance and discussions include:
    • briefings to the Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Australia on national and international accounts statistics on a quarterly basis
    • discussions with the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF) to assist in their understanding of the flows, adjustments and transformation of DTF Budget Account data to Government Finance Statistics Accounts and National Accounts
    • assistance to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Bureau of Rural Sciences on a number of activities using statistics as a central focus, including Signposts for Australian Agriculture and the National Agricultural Monitoring System to support Exceptional Circumstances assessments
    • presentation of an Australian Research Alliance of Children and Youth 'webinar' on data relating to families, communities, children and youth, for 15 communities across Australia who are participating in the Department of Families, Community Services, and Indigenous Affairs 'Stronger Families and Communities' project 'Communities for Children'
    • briefing for a range of agencies to raise awareness of the ABS Indigenous statistics program, and to improve ABS understanding of priorities – for example, ABS staff met with the Indigenous and Transitions group in the Department of Education, Science and Training
    • assistance to the Productivity Commission on availability, quality and analysis of statistical data in its work on their Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report
    • provision to the Treasury and the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling of Survey of Income and Housing data for modelling household economic activity.

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