COMMUNITY ATTITUDES TOWARDS ABS STATISTICAL DATA INTEGRATION: FOCUS GROUP STUDY, 2011
For almost a decade, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in consultation with the community, has been developing ways to use statistical data integration as a method for maximising the use of existing data sources. The ABS is well placed to undertake statistical data integration as it is an organisation which can provide a safe and effective environment for acquiring, storing and linking data, as well as skilled analysts who are able to interpret and explain linked data. As an accredited Commonwealth Integrating Authority, for all statistical data integration activities involving Commonwealth data, the ABS has demonstrated adherence to the High level principles for data integration involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes, and associated governance and implementation guidelines.
In order to ensure that ABS use of statistical data integration is aligned with community views about the collection and dissemination of social statistics, the ABS has actively sought feedback from the public. In March and April, 2011, eleven focus groups were conducted in both city and regional areas of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia to canvass community views on data integration for statistical and research purposes. The main purpose of these focus groups was to assess public awareness and acceptance of statistical data integration.
A cross-section of the community was represented in the focus groups, including people of different gender, age, ethnicity, occupation and educational attainment. Each group comprised six to nine people and the group discussion lasted about two hours. Each group was told about the concept of data integration, given examples to demonstrate the benefits of data integration, and told about the ways in which their personal information is protected. Participants were also asked to comment specifically on ABS involvement in data integration. Reactions and issues were discussed progressively as new information was presented to the group.
Historically, the public have had a high degree of trust in the ABS to produce high quality statistics and maintain the confidentiality of data providers. The feedback from these focus groups reflected that trust. Participants stated that:
'Everybody knows it [the ABS]'
'It does have proper controls'
'I have little knowledge...but it does have a good reputation'
'It is seen as professional'
'It is non-political'
'They are good at what they do...have a good track record'
'It is reputable'
In addition to a high level of trust in the ABS generally, there was greater confidence in the development of statistical data integration work if the ABS was a leader in its development. This was a common finding across all the groups. Furthermore, some participants pointed out that it was a “natural progression” and “bound to happen” and that, as the national statistical agency, the ABS is expected to have a central role in developing statistical data integration methods. For the ABS (compared with other government agencies), data collection and analysis was seen as its core business or “job”.
The risks associated with statistical data integration were discussed by the focus groups, and the High level principles for data integration involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes were seen as being strong protection against these risks. As a recognised leader in data collection and dissemination, participants felt that the ABS could face potential harm to its strong reputation and level of provider trust if integrating authorities (including agencies other than the ABS) made errors or failed to protect confidentiality in relation to linked data. The ABS was seen as largely responsible for the good conduct of statistical data integration projects, in a leadership role across Commonwealth government agencies.
STATISTICAL DATA INTEGRATION IN THE ABS
In alignment with the findings from these focus groups, and with the High level principles for data integration involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes, the ABS has pursued the development of statistical data integration methods carefully and strategically. The Census Data Enhancement projects and the Personal Income Tax Data Integration project have been meticulously planned and managed, and are beginning to produce useful and interesting results (e.g. ABS cat. no. 1351.0.55.041) which will contribute to policy development in Australia. For more information about statistical data integration in the ABS, please refer to www.abs.gov.au/dataintegration.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) Research Paper: Assessing the Quality of Linking School Enrolment Records to 2011 Census Data, Australian Government: Canberra
National Statistical Service (2010) High Level Principles for Data Integration Involving Commonwealth Data for Statistical and Research Purposes, Australian Government: Canberra
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This page first published 19 July 2013