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The analysis of data is an increasingly important function of statistical agencies. As Ivan Fellegi, Chief Statistician of Canada, noted, one of the main purposes of analysis is to convert data into information. More and more users are seeking information from statistical agencies not just data. In response to the demands of users for information, the ABS has made a conscious effort over the last 15 years to move from merely providing statistics, to a situation where it is increasing the analytical content to improve understanding of its outputs. This is consistent with the legislation controlling the operations of the ABS, i.e. section 6(1)(b) of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 which states that the functions of the ABS include ‘to collect, compile, analyse and disseminate statistics and related information’. This shift to an increasingly analytical role has been demonstrated in a number of ways including:
Of course, it is paramount that the ABS be objective in its analysis work. The ABS decides what to publish, and then does so in ways which explains and informs, without advocating a particular position, so that it cannot be rightly accused of political bias.
As part of that analysis work, two years ago the ABS began developing a new publication to help Australians address the question, ‘Has life in our country got better?’ This work culminated in April 2002 with the release of Measuring Australia’s Progress (cat. no. 1370.0). It displays, and comments on, ninety indicators that span thirty key aspects of the Australian economy, society and environment.
This article provides some background to the development of this landmark publication; the processes that were followed in developing the new publication; developing the content of the publication; the reaction to the publication; and finally, how it might evolve in the future.