2900.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Census and Census Data, Australia , 2016  
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    How we collected your information - the what, who, when, why and how of the Australian Census


What

The Census of Population and Housing (hereafter, simply “the Census”) is the largest statistical collection undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It aims to connect with every person in Australia and collect information about them and the place they are staying (houses, apartments, hotels, caravans, hospitals, etc.) in on Census night. The Census also collects information about those houses, townhouses, apartments, etc. that have no people in them on Census night so these can be included in the overall count of dwellings.

Who

The Census counts all people in Australia on Census night (excluding foreign diplomats and their families). This means that visitors to Australia are counted regardless of how long they have been in the country or how long they plan to stay, but that Australian residents who are overseas on Census night are not included.

People in Norfolk Island on Census night were counted for the first time in the 2016 Australian Census following passage of the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015. The Territories of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island have been included in the Australian Census since 1996. Expeditioners to Australian bases in the Australian Antarctic Territory (and other locations) are also included in Census counts.

When

The most recent Australian Census was held on Tuesday 9th August 2016.

Why

Information (or data) from the Census is unique because it is the only source of information for small areas (smaller than suburbs) and for small population groups (for example, small migrant groups) across the whole of the country. This detail provides richness to the planning, administration, policy development and evaluation activities of governments and other users.

Census data also provides the basis for official population estimates (the Estimated Resident Population) for Australia, state, territory and local government areas. These estimates help determine the distribution of government funds and the number of seats in the House of Representatives allocated to each state and territory. Australia’s Constitution states that the ‘number of members (in the House of Representatives) chosen in the several States shall be in proportion to the respective numbers of their people’.

For more information on the background, importance and uses of the Census, please refer to Census of Population and Housing: Nature and Content, Australia, 2016.

How

Reaching every person who is in Australia on Census night, and ensuring that every dwelling is counted, requires many years of planning and coordination. The aim is to develop a method of enumeration that is as efficient and effective as possible, while ensuring the quality of the information collected is of a high standard.

The 2011 Census and earlier

For the 2011 Census and earlier Censuses, the ABS relied on a large workforce in the field to list every household across Australia, then to knock on every door to attempt to make contact with householders and to deliver paper Census forms or online Census login codes. The field officers not only delivered and then collected Census materials but recorded some characteristics about the houses in which the people lived.

In 2011, generally less than half of doors were answered on each contact attempt, requiring field officers to return multiple times to dwellings to try to make contact. The sheer number of field officers required to cover the entire country was also beyond the capacity of the available labour market in some areas.

For more information about the method for collecting 2011 Census data, please refer to How Australia Takes a Census, 2011.

The 2016 Census

For the 2016 Census, the ABS developed a new method that addressed the difficulties in recruiting field staff as well as investing in the advantages and efficiencies of new technologies. Changes were designed taking into account international best practices in Census taking and building on the Australian public's increasing access to and use of the internet, and their willing support of the Census.

The new method made three main changes from that used in earlier Censuses.

  1. The development of a national Address Register to support mailing out of materials to households across Australia. The Address Register was formed using the Geocoded National Address File (GNAF) as its base and then built on using information gained through visiting every address through a large canvassing exercise, in addition to analysing other available data. This register formed the basis of addresses to which information was mailed out.
  2. The postal delivery of an instruction letter detailing how to complete the Census online or how to request a paper form. Paper forms were then despatched and mailed back via Australia Post so that Census field officers only visited a minority of homes, where the use of the mail service was not considered viable or where a Census form had not been returned.
  3. The use of a smarter online form. Many enhancements were made to the online form to improve quality and make it easier for respondents to complete. These enhancements are detailed in the Online form section.

This method has sometimes been referred to as a ‘mail-out’ model, and it significantly reduced the number of Census field officers and the hours of Census field officer effort required to undertake Census enumeration. This contributed the majority of the over $100 million savings in the 2016 Census.

Approximately 80% of dwellings across Australia were, in the first instance, mailed a Census instruction letter which included a unique login number for the online form.

Adaptations to the standard mail-out model were developed to encourage timely response from people in areas where the standard approach may not have been as effective. These areas were identified based on a range of criteria, such as demographic characteristics, location, internet connectivity and the experience of previous Censuses. Some of these adaptions included:

        • Mailing out a paper Census form in the first instance, rather than the instruction letter with an online login code; and
        • Earlier follow-up by Census field officers in these areas for households that had not returned their form after Census night.

In the remaining areas of Australia, a more traditional delivery approach (the 'drop off' approach) was used with Census Field Officers delivering materials to each dwelling, enabling householders to either complete their form online or mail back a paper form. In these areas, the Field Officers attempted to make contact with householders when dropping off the form, only making further visits to dwellings that have not participated.

The information on each household were received from Census Field Officers using handheld devices, call centre agents receiving public enquiries, receipt of completed online and paper Census forms. This information provided the ability to monitor progress on a near real-time basis and was used to highlight areas of lower response, or any other issue, so that alternative strategies could be enacted quickly to respond to these problems as they arose. Progress was monitored at small area levels, allowing varied strategies to be implemented to encourage response and increase data quality. In previous Censuses, collection of field information was paper based with hand-held devices used for the first time in the 2016 Census.

The collection methodology is described in more detail in Census of Population and Housing: Nature and Content, Australia, 2016.

Special strategies

As in previous Censuses, in 2016 there were a range of approaches used for collecting information from specific population groups. These approaches were designed in consultation and collaboration with relevant communities and/or service providers to ensure the coverage of all people in Australia (including these specific populations) was as complete as possible.

Special strategies were developed to optimise accessibility and inclusion of the following groups:
    • remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
    • urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
    • defence personnel;
    • people with disabilities;
    • people experiencing homelessness;
    • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds;
    • People who were in non-private dwellings on Census night (hotels, hospitals, etc.)
    • people travelling or away from their home on Census night;
    • people living in mining camps and fly-in/fly-out workers; and
    • older Australians.

Each of these strategies had one or more of the following components:

Specialised Field Staff: Field staff were employed to undertake specialist collection tasks. For example, locating hard-to-find populations, managing the distribution and collection of forms in complex housing establishments, or conducting interviews with respondents. A key objective when employing these field staff was to select people that were trusted by and knowledgeable of the people to be counted under this strategy.

Alternative Census forms: Alternative Census forms were used as part of some strategies. An Interviewer Household Form was used in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and in some urban areas. In some areas, a shortened version of the Census form was used to interview people sleeping rough as part of the Homelessness Enumeration Strategy. Forms were also available with large print, in Braille and translated into Auslan. The online Census form was certified as being accessible to Level AA, and tested with screen-readers and other assistive technologies.

Targeted communication: The ABS recognises that some people have difficulty or face barriers to completing the Census. For example, they might be away from home on Census night, live in a remote area or have difficulties understanding English. To overcome these barriers, a range of targeted communication strategies were developed to enable everyone to participate in the 2016 Census. Census promotional and instructional materials were translated into a number of different languages, whilst a phone based translation service was also provided. The 2016 communications campaign holds more information about these strategies.

Community engagement: The ABS engaged with both national and local community organisations and stakeholders in order to understand the support needs of different communities, provide information on the importance of participation in the Census and to assist with completing Census forms. Census management offices were established in each State and Territory, as well as regional District Managers and Local Engagement Managers.

Planning and Testing

With such a large change made to the method for collecting information from the public, the ABS undertook a comprehensive testing program. A series of tests were performed leading up to the 2016 Census;
    • In 2012, a test involving 8,000 dwellings in Canberra and surrounding areas was used to understand and test the mail-out model. In addition, focus groups, in-depth interviews and online surveys were used to understand how people would respond to receiving information by mail.
    • In 2013, a test involving 20,000 dwellings around Geelong was undertaken with the aim of understanding casual workforce and digital operational management.
    • In 2014, a test involving 100,000 dwelling in Adelaide, Albany and Perth sought to inform on the readiness of processes, systems and infrastructure, measure the coverage quality of the Address Register and understand likely public behaviour in 2016.
    • In 2015, two tests were undertaken (involving 10,000 and 35,000 dwellings) to shortlist and identify the most effective design of household contact materials that were developed in partnership with CSIRO.

International Review

In addition to a rigorous testing program, the new method was informed by the best practices in Census taking around the world. The ABS engaged in a number of working groups and discussions with a range of countries to collaborate, share ideas and learnings, and refine the new approach. In April 2014, respected Census practitioners from the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, along with ABS Census counterparts who worked on the 2006 and 2011 Australian Censuses, undertook a review of the ABS’s plans and preparations for the 2016 Census. This review endorsed the new approach to the Census and provided valuable feedback, such as to make more use of mail when making contact with the public, and adopt more tailored approaches for particular areas or population groups.

Census forms

There were a number of ways information was collected from the Australian public. For most people, information was returned to the ABS via either an online form or a paper form. For some people the most effective way to collect their information was through other administrative sources.

While the topics collected through the 2016 Census were unchanged from 2011, there were some minor changes to the questions and supporting text. The changes were implemented to make the form easier to complete and to optimise the quality of the data produced. The changes were designed based on an evaluation of the results of the 2011 Census, the public consultation process and the 2016 Census testing program. More information on the topic consultation and determination process can be found in Census of Population and Housing: Nature and Content, Australia, 2016.

Online form

The 2016 Census online form was improved greatly from previous Censuses. Developments were made to make the form simpler for people to use and faster to complete. The improvements included;

    • Tailoring questions to the respondent with the specific aim to increase accuracy. After a respondent reported their name, subsequent questions were automatically populated to bring greater clarity. For example, the question may be: Where does “person name, eg Jo Bloggs” usually live?
    • Undertaking data checks and providing feedback to the respondent. For example, the respondent was asked to double check unlikely age responses in order to identify typing errors and asked to complete some questions if they were left blank.
    • Introducing targeted supplementary questions. A series of supplementary questions were triggered when particular responses were provided. For example, if a response of “teacher” was provided to the occupation question, a supplementary question was asked to determine more details about the type of teacher for more detailed occupation coding.
    • Sequencing respondents to only the questions relevant to them based on information they have provided. For example, if a respondent reported that they were not in the labour force, they were sequenced out of questions relating to labour force.
    • Designed to adapt to and be easily usable on tablets and smart phones, not just on desktop and laptop computers.
The improved online form significantly reduced the time taken by the average household to complete the Census, with the average form in 2016 taking 26 minutes compared to 37 minutes for the paper form. The online Census also delivered higher quality data.

Paper forms

The paper household form and personal form (available from the Downloads tab) were very similar to those used in previous Censuses. However, in 2016 the front page of the paper forms were given a new look, incorporating instructions on how to complete the Census online.

Other versions of paper forms were used for areas or populations where a different approach was required. For people experiencing homelessness, field officers used Special Short Forms to collect their information. For people living in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, households had the option to provide information directly to a field officer using an Interviewer Household Form, or could complete their own paper or online form.


Other

In some cases, the most effective and efficient way of collecting information for people was by using available administrative data. Examples of this are where people were on expedition to the Australian Antarctic base, where people were in immigration detention centres, and where people were in prisons or other correctional institutions.

How people in each state completed their Census

Nearly two in every three (63.3%) people in private dwellings completed their Census form online, an increase from less than two in every five (37.9%) people in the 2011 Census.

A slightly lower proportion of private dwellings (58.8%) submitted their Census information using the online form, suggesting that larger households were more likely to use the online form. There has been increasing support from households across Australia using the online form since the introduction of it in the 2006 Census.

Mode of response for responding occupied private dwellings by state and territory


2006
2011
2016
New South WalesOnline form
10.7%
35.5%
60.0%
Paper form
89.3%
64.5%
40.0%
VictoriaOnline form
10.4%
32.7%
58.9%
Paper form
89.6%
67.3%
41.1%
QueenslandOnline form
10.8%
34.0%
58.3%
Paper form
89.2%
66.0%
41.7%
South AustraliaOnline form
8.4%
30.7%
52.0%
Paper form
91.6%
69.3%
48.0%
Western AustraliaOnline form
11.7%
37.1%
61.5%
Paper form
88.3%
62.9%
38.5%
TasmaniaOnline form
8.3%
31.1%
45.0%
Paper form
91.7%
68.9%
55.0%
Northern TerritoryOnline form
9.5%
33.8%
49.4%
Paper form
90.5%
66.2%
50.6%
Australian Capital TerritoryOnline form
17.8%
46.3%
78.9%
Paper form
82.2%
53.7%
21.1%
Australia*Online form
10.6%
34.3%
58.8%
Paper form
89.4%
65.7%
41.2%

* Includes Other Territories


The majority of people in non-private dwellings submitted their Census information using a paper form. While this has been the case since the 2006 Census there has been an increase across many States and Territories in the uptake of the online form option by people staying in non-private dwellings on Census night.

Mode of response for people enumerated in non-private dwellings by state and territory


2006
2011
2016
New South WalesOnline form
1.1%
7.9%
10.3%
Paper form
98.9%
92.1%
89.7%
VictoriaOnline form
1.0%
5.4%
9.3%
Paper form
99.0%
94.6%
90.7%
QueenslandOnline form
1.0%
6.1%
8.4%
Paper form
99.0%
93.9%
91.6%
South AustraliaOnline form
1.8%
11.5%
9.1%
Paper form
98.2%
88.5%
90.9%
Western AustraliaOnline form
1.2%
5.6%
8.4%
Paper form
98.8%
94.4%
91.6%
TasmaniaOnline form
0.8%
12.5%
10.0%
Paper form
99.2%
87.5%
90.0%
Northern TerritoryOnline form
0.9%
3.4%
8.4%
Paper form
99.1%
96.6%
91.6%
Australian Capital TerritoryOnline form
2.6%
25.3%
19.5%
Paper form
97.4%
74.7%
80.5%
Australia*Online form
1.2%
7.3%
9.5%
Paper form
98.8%
92.7%
90.5%

* Includes Other Territories



How culturally and linguistically diverse communities completed their Census

People born outside Australia were more likely to participate online (68.6% for those in private dwellings) than people born in Australia (61.0%). Of the top 10 countries of birth in Australia, the highest online response was from people born in China (90.0%) and India (85.4%).

Mode of response for people* by their country of birth


Paper response
Online response
Australia
39.0%
61.0%
England
37.4%
62.6%
New Zealand
35.9%
64.1%
China (excludes SARs and Taiwan)
10.0%
90.0%
India
14.6%
85.4%
Philippines
25.2%
74.8%
Vietnam
20.3%
79.7%
Italy
49.2%
50.8%
South Africa
19.8%
80.2%
Malaysia
17.6%
82.4%

*Persons in private dwellings only.


People who only spoke English at home were the least likely to participate online (59.9%), whereas people who spoke a language other than English and could not speak English at all were the most likely to complete the online form (82.9%).

Mode of response for people* by language spoken at home and proficiency in English


Paper response
Online response
Speaks English only
40.1%
59.9%
Speaks other language and speaks English: Very well
23.4%
76.6%
Speaks other language and speaks English: Well
23.3%
76.7%
Speaks other language and speaks English: Not well
24.6%
75.4%
Speaks other language and speaks English: Not at all
17.1%
82.9%

*Persons in private dwellings only.


How different ages completed their Census

There was little difference in online response rates between ages 0 – 49 years.

The online response rate reduces in older age groups, however the majority of people aged 60-69 years (52.2%) participated online and more than one in four of those aged 80 years and over (28.3%) were counted in an online form. This age group’s online participation increased by the greatest proportion in 2016 with the online response rate increasing 225%.

Mode of response for people* by age group


2011 Online

Response

2016 Online

Response

Change
Percentage

Increase

0-9 years
45.9%
69.4%
23.6%
51%
10-19 years
41.4%
68.1%
26.7%
65%
20-29 years
43.3%
71.9%
28.6%
66%
30-39 years
46.7%
71.8%
25.1%
54%
40-49 years
40.7%
67.1%
26.4%
65%
50-59 years
34.7%
60.9%
26.2%
75%
60-69 years
26.3%
52.2%
25.9%
99%
70-79 years
14.6%
38.8%
24.2%
167%
80 years and over
8.7%
28.3%
19.6%
225%

*Persons in private dwellings only.