1001.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics -- Annual Report, 2013-14  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/11/2014   
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NATIONAL STATISTICAL SERVICE

Official statistics are fundamental to good government, to the delivery of public services and to decision making in all sectors of society. In an increasingly complex and fast-moving world, Australia requires a contemporary national statistical system that can adapt and respond to growing information needs.

The National Statistical Service (NSS) is a community of government agencies working to build a rich statistical picture in order to better inform Australia. The NSS embraces all levels of government, and includes all official bodies involved in the production and use of official statistical assets. The NSS exists as part of a broader Australian statistical system. The Australian statistical system includes all users and producers of statistics in non-government sectors such as businesses, not-for-profit organisations, research institutions and members of the Australian public, as well as users and producers in government bodies at all levels of government.

The National Statistical Service Leadership Section program provides a focus within the ABS for strategies aimed at strengthening and extending the NSS. The State and Territory Statistical Services (STSS) program delivered by the ABS helps deliver on NSS objectives through collaboration on statistical priorities and emerging issues with state and territory governments and with communities.

OBJECTIVES OF THE NSS

The NSS aims to improve the quality and usefulness of official statistical assets. Its objectives are:

  • optimising and improving Australia’s essential statistical assets for evidence-based policy development, evaluation and research
  • improved and more effective statistical infrastructure and services
  • increasing the statistical capabilities of producers and users of statistics.

ELEMENTS OF THE NSS

There are four essential elements of a successful NSS: valuing statistics; statistical capability; statistical infrastructure; and statistical content. The NSS outcomes for each element are:
  • Valuing statistics: governments and the community value and support high-integrity information
  • Statistical capability: producers and users are able to manage data, make it accessible and use it well
  • Statistical infrastructure: statistical standards, policies and tools are shared to maximise the value of investment, reduce provider load and support integrated statistics
  • Statistical content: public information sources are fully used to provide a statistical picture of the economy, society and the environment.

NATIONAL STATISTICAL SERVICE INITIATIVES

Over the course of 2013–14 the ABS has undertaken a range of activities to expand and improve the NSS including the progression of the Essential Statistical Assets (ESA) for Australia initiative, submission to the Commission of Audit, and the GovHack competition.

Valuing statistics

Strategic engagement with NSS stakeholders

Recognising that enduring partnerships are crucial to building a strong NSS, the ABS has continued a program of strategic engagement and staff outpostings with key stakeholders to build recognition of the value of high integrity statistical information.

Activities undertaken as part of this program include bilateral discussions with Commonwealth and state and territory governments, as well as increasing the strategic focus and coordination of existing forums. In addition to developing strong relationships with NSS partners, these engagement activities have led to the identification of opportunities for increased collaboration and progression of NSS priorities across government, for example, the ESA initiative (outlined further in the Statistical Content section of this chapter).

During 2013–14 outposted officers were actively involved in strategic engagement roles in host agencies at the state and Commonwealth level. Outposted officers support and facilitate collaboration between the ABS and their host agency to progress a range of NSS priorities, such as the consultation process for the Essential Statistical Infrastructure (ESI) project. Outposted officers have also been instrumental in developing networks of data users and producers in host agencies, as well as supporting senior level bilateral engagement activities with the ABS.

Statistical governance

Australian Statistics Advisory Council

The Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC) is the ABS’s key advisory body and has a diverse membership covering government, business, academic and community interests. ASAC provides valuable input to the directions and priorities of the ABS work program, including statistical capability, and reports annually to Parliament. During 2013–14 ASAC was widely involved in the ABS’s statistical infrastructure transformation program and the ESA initiative. In addition, ASAC was consulted on the preparations for the 2016 Census of Population and Housing including the topics for the 2016 Census and the broad directions for the 2016 Census Data Enhancement program. Consistent with their legislated mandate, the Council was also briefed on a range of strategic directions for the ABS work program. ASAC continued to progress its plans to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Australia’s official statistics with further work undertaken to develop a forward-looking national statistics policy.

For more information about ASAC, please refer to the ASAC Annual Report available at http://www.asac.gov.au.

State Statistical Forum

Each year the ABS hosts two meetings of the State Statistical Forum (SSF) at which senior members of the ABS and state and territory governments come together to discuss their statistical priorities. The STSS program delivered by the ABS provides support for SSF representatives to progress projects of benefit to all state and territory governments. During 2013–14 the SSF focused on the development of a national statistics policy and explored opportunities for cross-jurisdictional collaboration on the previously agreed priority areas of building statistical capability, statistical data integration and measuring disadvantage. Watching briefs, reporting on significant activities within the jurisdictions, were also in place for performance reporting, local level economic data and spatially enabling data.

Australian Government Statistical Forum

The Australian Government Statistical Forum (AGSF) brings together senior staff of Australian government agencies who are important partners in the NSS. The forum aims to promote NSS initiatives among agencies, identify and promote partnerships and collaborations, and encourage best practice in data collection and management. The AGSF meets biannually to discuss key national and international statistical developments. During 2013–14 the meetings considered a number of issues and initiatives around the themes of Statistical Data Integration, and Information Management Strategies.

Arrangements for data integration involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes

Australian Government administrative data is a valuable public asset and is increasingly being recognised as a strategic resource with a wider statistical use in supporting research, discussion and decision making. The integration of datasets creates an important opportunity to expand the range of official statistics to better inform decisions to improve social, economic and environmental wellbeing in Australian society. Data integration maximises use of data that is already available, so it is a cost-effective and timely way of gathering information which enhances the evidence base for research and evaluation.

While the benefits are clear, data integration also needs to protect the privacy of individuals and organisations. Consistent governance, methods, policies and protocols around data integration are important protections, whilst maximising the usefulness of the data. In 2010 the Commonwealth Portfolio Secretaries (now the Secretaries Board) endorsed the High Level Principles for Data Integration Involving Commonwealth Data for Statistical and Research Purposes and a set of institutional and governance arrangements to support them. These documents provide the framework for an Australian Government approach to facilitate linkage of social, economic and environmental data for statistical and research purposes in a safe and effective environment.

As Secretariat for the Cross Portfolio Data Integration Oversight Board (Oversight Board), the ABS has continued its NSS leadership role in promoting the establishment of a safe and effective environment for data integration. The Oversight Board, established as part of the governance arrangements, is chaired by the Australian Statistician and includes Secretaries from the Commonwealth Departments of Health, Social Services and Human Services. During 2013–14 the Oversight Board met three times to progress the development of Commonwealth arrangements including scope, risk and other strategic priorities. Due to the strategic nature of the issues, a deputy secretary-level group—the Deputy Secretaries Discussion Group—was convened to provide recommendations to the Oversight Board on these matters.

Key achievements in 2013–14:

  • In July 2013 a Data Linking Information Series was published on the NSS website, providing a simplified overview of the technical aspects of data linking.
  • In December 2013 Data integration involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes: risk assessment guidelines (December 2013) was released on the NSS website.
  • In April 2014 the Oversight Board endorsed a strategy to commence a progressive implementation of the Commonwealth arrangements from 1 July 2014. The immediate implementation priority is to operationalise and finalise the Commonwealth arrangements as they relate to external projects.
  • Numerous presentations to government and nongovernment stakeholders were given at conferences and seminars across Australia to communicate information about the governance arrangements for data integration involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes.
  • Significant progress was achieved on a key deliverable of the governance and institutional arrangements—a set of guidelines for data integration projects involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes. The Cross Portfolio Reference Group developed the details of the Commonwealth arrangements described in the guidelines which are to be disseminated publicly in the new financial year once endorsed by the Oversight Board.

International Year of Statistics 2013

The ABS has been providing Australians with the high quality statistics necessary for informed decision making for over 100 years. ABS were proud supporters of the 2013 International Year of Statistics (IYOS) which celebrated the important role statistics play in building a better nation for all Australians, and for people in other countries.

Throughout this year-long celebration, hundreds of participating organisations around the world banded together to:

  • increase public awareness of the power and impact of statistics on all aspects of society
  • nurture statistics as a profession, especially among high-school and college students
  • promote creativity and development in the sciences of probability and statistics.

As noted in last year’s Annual report, the ABS coordinated a number of events in 2013 to support the International Year of Statistics, including sponsoring the national phase of the International Statistical Literacy Project Poster Competition. The releases of ABS flagship publications including Measures of Australia’s Progress and Essential Statistical Assets for Australia also reinforced the objectives of the event.

IYOS was a highly successful campaign throughout the world. To support the ongoing recognition of the role of statistics, IYOS has now been succeeded by a continuing initiative, The World of Statistics. The ABS is supporting this initiative to continue celebrating the important role statistics play in building a better nation for all Australians.

GovHack

GovHack provides a high profile opportunity to highlight the role of all government agencies in supporting data sharing of public administrative assets—a key National Statistical Service priority.

GovHack enabled the ABS to promote the use of ABS.Stat datasets to developers, for them to experiment with government data and come up with innovative and new applications for that data.

Participants had the opportunity to develop outcomes using ABS data available through ABS.Stat in competing for awards directly sponsored by the ABS. ABS.Stat was also one of the official datasets promoted for use in the event.

There were over 40 highly creative and innovative entries submitted. Open data was presented by data visualisations, mash-ups and pooled with other official datasets to present engaging applications and tell statistical stories for the Australian community.

The first award went to Crochead (by 3M3 in Hobart), who produced an application which allows users to enter profile areas using a categorisation they have produced from ABS’s National Regional Profile Data. The second award went to Australia In Review (by Atomic 51 in Perth), which provides a view of Australia’s history, using multiple styles to present the data.

Building on successful involvement in the 2013 event, the ABS is once again a Gold Sponsor of the GovHack 2014 event, held around Australia in July 2014.

Crisp Revisited project

Throughout 2013–14 the ABS has been working with stakeholders across the Australian government, and state and territory governments, on the ‘Crisp Revisited’ project, which aims to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the national statistical system, address concerns about a lack of coordination and collaboration, and resolve problems such as duplication of data collection across various agencies at all levels of government, and a lack of statistical coherence and comparability. These concerns are similar to those the Committee on Integration of Data Systems (headed by Professor Leslie Finlay Crisp) raised in its 1974 report, hence the name ‘Crisp Revisited.’ The project consists of four streams of work:
1. developing a National Statistics Policy
2. undertaking a situational analysis of the national statistical system
3. working with stakeholders to document key learnings from existing or new information-related initiatives
4. developing a business case for reforming the national statistical system.

The ABS, in collaboration with a range of stakeholders across the official statistical system, has made good progress on a draft National Statistical Policy, which sets goals for the national statistical system, includes principles for official statistics, and articulates roles and responsibilities for statistical producers, data custodians and statistical users. The ABS intends to finalise the draft National Statistical Policy in 2014–15.

The information gathered through documenting key learnings from new or existing information-related initiatives, and the findings of the situational analysis, will inform the business case for reforming the national statistical system. The ABS will work with stakeholders in 2014–15 to develop the business case, which is expected to set out what governance arrangements, institutional arrangements, and other resources are needed to better coordinate the national statistical system.

STATISTICAL CAPABILITY

National Statistical Service Seminars

The NSS hosts a series of free seminars each year, held in Canberra and broadcast live to state offices. These seminars cover topics which are of interest to the NSS community. The NSS Seminars are aimed at audiences of non-statistical backgrounds and aim to build statistical capability via interactive, participatory presentations.

In 2013–14, the NSS held 10 informative seminars led by internal ABS staff and external presenters on topics which included:
  • Testing ideas: using longitudinal data to move beyond exploratory research
  • ABS.Stat—data engagement
  • Making informed decisions and better policy—why visualisation helps us
  • Land and Ecosystem Accounts
  • Measures of Australia’s Progress
  • Essential Statistical Assets for Australia
  • Providing an information base for the Murray Darling Basin Plan
  • Dissemination in the ABS: TableBuilder
  • Opening data for a more effective and efficient public service
  • Australian Business Register (ABR) Information—supporting government decision making.

All seminars were recorded and are available for viewing on the NSS website.

Statistical Capability Framework


During 2013–14 the ABS developed version 1.0 of a Statistical Capability Framework—which describes what it means for someone to be statistically capable—for consideration nationally and internationally as a standard. The Framework forms a key part of the infrastructure being implemented to transform the ABS approach to building statistical capability and realise the vision of a more statistically capable workforce, society and region.

The ‘common language’ that is provided by the Framework will be a foundational element that allows for greater integration of statistical capability development effort across the ABS, and with ABS’s partners. The Framework also provides the basis for more focused discussions on priority statistical capability development needs, and guides decisions on where statistical capability development efforts should be directed to achieve desired outcomes. An ABS discussion paper which will outline the content and benefits of the Framework is scheduled for release during 2014–15.

Australian Community Indicators Network

Since the turn of the century there has been strong and growing interest in community indicators across governments and communities at all levels. The Australian Community Indicators Network (ACIN), established in 2010, is a group of professionals working together to build a national dialogue and knowledge base across community indicator policy, research and practice. With the support of the ABS, the ACIN has continued to hold biannual national seminars to share information on community indicator development and applications. The seminars are well attended, attracting in excess of 80 attendees and with representation from all tiers of government, academia and interested individuals. The first ACIN for 2013–14 featured three presentations on health-related community indicator research projects at national and local levels.

Further information about these and previous ACIN seminars is available on the NSS website.

ABS officer outpostings

The ABS Outposted Officer program strengthens the NSS through developing statistical capability, and increasing coordination within host agencies.

Outposted officers undertook a range of activities in 2013–14 to provide statistical support for specific projects or policy initiatives that are a high priority within the host agency and to build statistical capability in government agencies, including providing advice on data quality issues across administrative data assets, confidentiality and data release policies.

Policy visualisation

The ABS is part of the Australian Government-led initiative, the Policy Visualisation Network. The purpose of this network is to bring policy makers and designers together to explore how government departments and agencies can make more use of visualisation techniques to feed into evidence-informed policy making and evaluation. The Policy Visualisation Network met for the third time in 2013–14, hosted by the ABS.

There was also an NSS seminar in 2013–14 on data visualisation, ‘Making informed decisions and better policy—why visualisation helps us’. A new data visualisation page was established on the NSS website in 2013–14, covering ABS data visualisation initiatives and other data visualisation links and resources.

STATISTICAL INFRASTRUCTURE

Statistical Spatial Framework

The ABS has worked with international and NSS partners to develop a Statistical Spatial Framework that uses agreed geospatial infrastructure and methodologies to consistently geospatially enable socioeconomic information.

International interest in a global statistical-geospatial framework


The United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) requested ABS to conduct a program review of National Statistical Organisations’ geospatial activities. In 2013, the UNSC and the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN–GGIM) both considered this program review and accepted its recommendations to develop better linkages between geospatial and statistical communities, and to develop a global statistical-geospatial framework based on the ABS Statistical Spatial Framework. Both UN bodies agreed to establish a UN Experts Group and conduct an international conference to pursue these aims.

The ABS co-chaired the first meeting of the United Nations Expert Group on the Integration of Statistical and Geospatial Information (UN EG–ISGI), which was held in New York from 30 October to 1 November 2013. There was good representation at the meeting with 24 delegates from 16 countries from both geospatial and statistical communities. The terms of reference for the Expert Group, agreed to at the first meeting, included:

  • to provide a forum for both statistical and geospatial communities with a view to developing a global statistical-geospatial framework as a standard for the integration of statistical and geospatial information
  • to propose workplans and guidelines to advance the implementation of a global statistical-geospatial framework
  • to address various technical, institutional and information policy issues related to the implementation of a global statistical-geospatial framework, especially issues related to confidentiality
  • to pursue the implementation of the statistical-geospatial framework in the 2020 round of censuses with the understanding that it would apply to other initiatives.

Statistical Spatial Framework domestic engagement

In March 2014 the ABS held a Statistical Spatial Framework workshop with key Australian Government agencies who are custodians of socio-economic statistics. Participating agencies shared their experiences in geospatially enabling their own statistics and their uses for geospatial information. A number of common issues and themes were discussed and this information will be used to further enhance and develop the content of the Framework. The attendees provided support for the Statistical Spatial Framework, in particular the use of the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) as a common geography through which data from disparate sources could be integrated for analysis, research and reporting purposes.

Statistical Spatial Framework guidance material

During 2013–14 three papers containing guidance material for the Statistical Spatial Framework were released on the Statistical Spatial Framework web page on the NSS website:
  • Using Geographic Boundaries and Classifications with Statistics provides guidance on the basic principles of spatially enabling data and using geographic classifications, as well as providing specific guidance on adding geographic information to data and converting data across different regions.
  • Privacy and Confidentiality Risks with Geospatially Enabled Statistics: Geographic Differencing provides guidance for custodians of geospatially enabled socio-economic data on privacy and confidentiality risks and management, particularly in relation to risks that arise from geographic differencing of regional data. This paper strongly references the confidentiality advice provided in the National Statistical Service Confidentiality Information Series.
  • Geocoding Unit Record Data Using Address and Location provides guidance to data custodians wishing to geospatially enable their data through geocoding, or seeking to improve their practices in this area.

Data integration involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes

Throughout the past twelve months the ABS has been successful in leading and facilitating a range of data integration projects which are listed on the NSS website.

Statistical data integration infrastructure is an important part of the implementation of the work that ensures governments and the community value the role of data integration. A specific example of data integration infrastructure is the Data Integration Involving Commonwealth Data for Statistical and Research Purposes: Risk Assessment Guidelines (December 2013), which was released on the NSS website in December 2013. This risk assessment framework provides a guide to assess the risk of a breach which would result in an unauthorised disclosure of personal or business information. It also assesses any risk that the public trust of the Australian Government will be reduced by such a breach or through a negative public perception of a project. This is an important tool to assist Commonwealth agencies to determine whether a data integration project should proceed and whether an accredited Integrating Authority is required to manage the project. The risk assessment framework describes a two-stage process that assesses the risk of the data integration project against criteria agreed by the Oversight Board. The first stage (the pre-mitigation risk assessment) identifies and rates the elements of risk presented by the project. The second stage assesses the residual risk after accounting for risk mitigation strategies (the post-mitigation risk assessment). If the project risk is high after mitigation then the project must be managed by an accredited Integrating Authority.

One of the requirements of the governance and institutional arrangements is to develop a comprehensive set of guidelines describing best practice for data integration projects involving Commonwealth data. The Cross Portfolio Reference Group has developed the details of the Commonwealth arrangements described in the guidelines which will be disseminated publicly in the new financial year, once endorsed by the Oversight Board. The guidelines have been developed on Govspace, a web-based platform, and will also be accessible through a link on the NSS website.

Statistical Clearing House

The Statistical Clearing House (SCH) was established in response to a recommendation in 1996 by the Small Business Deregulation Task Force. A central clearance process was established for business surveys conducted by the Australian Government to ensure that surveys are necessary, well designed and place minimum burden on business respondents. All surveys conducted by, or on behalf of, any Australian Government agency (including the ABS) and directed to business, are subject to clearance by the SCH. In view of its statistical expertise and statutory coordination role, the ABS is empowered to administer this clearance process.

The SCH pays particular attention to eliminating duplication and ensuring that business surveys conducted by Australian Government agencies follow sound statistical methodologies and practices. In 2013–14 there were 116 surveys submitted to the SCH for clearance. Of these, 65 were in scope for SCH review, 30 were out of scope,

14 were classified as ‘In scope—not to be reviewed’ and 7 were cancelled by agencies after submission. Of the 65 surveys in scope, 42 were approved and 23 were in various stages of review at the end of June 2014. Overall, 60 surveys were approved in 2013–14, including 18 surveys submitted in the previous financial year. Surveys categorised as ’In scope—not to be reviewed’ are those where the respondent burden is minimal and total time taken to complete the survey is considered low.
The SCH is a successful NSS initiative in improving statistical coordination and reducing provider burden. During the 2013–14 year the SCH has undertaken a review of its processes, procedures and documentation. Implementation of the outcomes is planned in 2014–15; this includes:
  • changes to the Scoping and Information Templates to assist survey managers improve their understanding of the information required by the SCH to complete a survey review
  • the development of brief survey practice guidelines to assist survey managers to make decisions about various aspects of the survey planning process.

Through focused engagement with key clients, the SCH has strengthened relationships resulting in proactive management of business surveys, better understanding of client business requirements and time frames, and improved responsiveness.

STATISTICAL CONTENT

Open data

In the last decade, open data has become a strong movement internationally. Freely and easily accessible data for reuse within Australia has become more prominent within the last few years, particularly seen through the Commonwealth website data.gov.au and its state counterparts (for example, data.gov.vic.au).

The website data.gov.au aims to provide an easy way to find, access and reuse public datasets from Australian Government agencies and departments. Currently data.gov.au holds data from 129 organisations, 3,424 datasets and 14,393 data files. The main purposes of the site are to provide access to this data, and provide it in useful formats under open licences.

In 2013–14 ABS worked collaboratively with data.gov.au, including sharing information with other organisations and the public about the open data landscape through the NSS seminar ‘Opening data for a more effective and efficient public service’, and contributing ABS data through the data.gov.au portal.

Essential Statistical Assets for Australia

Phase 1

In November 2010 ASAC endorsed the ABS, as part of its legislated role to coordinate the provision of official statistics across the NSS, to ‘set out to identify, in a highly consultative way, the Essential Statistical Assets for Australia, regardless of which organisations produce them’.

After an extensive consultation process ABS released the 2013 List of Essential Statistical Assets for Australia, which represents the first holistic assessment of the most essential statistics to meet current user requirements undertaken in Australia. The list was released in the publication Essential Statistical Assets for Australia (ABS cat. no. 1395.0) in March 2013.

Phase 2

Phase 2 of the project, quality assessment, commenced in mid-2013. This process will provide a more in-depth consideration of the 2013 list of Australia’s essential statistical assets in order to understand how well the currently produced information meets the critical needs of users, highlighting gaps within existing statistics and identifying areas for future investment.

Phase 2 also aims to produce overarching quality assessments for each of the 74 essential statistical assets identified on the 2013 ESA list, using information about the quality of the contributing datasets. The Phase 2 quality assessment process is based on the ABS Data Quality Framework and data quality will be assessed for the purpose of ESA.

As at June 2014 quality consultations had been completed for 97% of ABS datasets and 92% of non-ABS datasets on the ESA list. The initial scoring process had been applied to 89% of all datasets; aggregated results for the 74 statistics are expected to be released late in 2014.

Phase 3

During 2013–14 the ABS also initiated work to support the identification of Australia’s Essential Statistical Infrastructure (ESI), Phase 3 of the ESA for Australia initiative. The underlying statistical infrastructure used to support the generation of datasets and their resulting statistics represent a critical component of Australia’s statistical system, and a potential area for government investment in order to improve the overall quality of the statistics produced.

The ABS consulted with a range of stakeholders across Australian governments in the development of a statistical infrastructure framework, and to establish an appropriate mechanism to undertake the identification process of the broad, complex and inter-linked range of infrastructure involved in the production and release of official statistical information.

There was widespread acknowledgement of the importance of the initiative and support for its ongoing development. The ABS intends to release the outcomes of this next development stage during 2014–15 following further work involving key stakeholders.

Phase 4

During 2013–14 ASAC has worked closely with the ABS to progress the ESA initiative and consider priorities for investment in the statistical system. ASAC has also recognised the importance of reforming the national statistical system in order to better identify areas for investment. ASAC is continuing to work with the ABS and other relevant stakeholders to determine possible solutions to address existing barriers to an efficient and effective Australian statistical system.

It should be recognised that the allocation of resources to support investments in response to the identification of priorities remains with the respective data custodian agencies. Given the limited resources generally available, the ability of an agency to invest in the priorities identified will rely on the respective agency’s prioritisation of investment in statistical assets and infrastructure in relation to other obligations, including the broad investment priorities of government.