Understanding community attitudes towards data integration


For over a decade, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), has been developing ways to use statistical data integration as a method for maximising the use of existing data sources to better inform decisions in important areas such as health, education, infrastructure and the economy.

The ABS is well placed to undertake statistical data integration as it provides a safe and effective environment for acquiring, storing and linking data, and making statistics available to the community. In order to ensure that ABS use of statistical data integration is aligned with community views about the collection, use and dissemination of statistics, the ABS has actively sought to understand community attitudes to data integration.


In 2015 an independent survey showed that 100% of informed users and 81% of the general community trusted Australia’s official statistical organisation. As an accredited Commonwealth Integrating Authority the ABS embraces the High Level Principles for data integration involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes, and has been independently audited for compliance with the associated governance and implementation guidelines.



In 2014 the ABS commissioned Colmar Brunton, a market research company, to conduct a series of focus groups in order to understand contemporary community views on the ABS’ statistical data integration plans ahead of the 2016 Census.


A series of 16 one-hour focus groups were held in regional and metropolitan areas across Australia. This included targeted focus groups for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.


The focus group testing found that the ABS was seen as a trustworthy organisation producing important data for government decision making. The vast majority of participants had confidence that the personal data they provide to the ABS is kept safe and secure. This finding was consistent with the results from the independent survey undertaken in 2015.

The key themes that emerged from focus group consultations were:

    • Public benefit – participants generally agreed that statistical data integration undertaken by the ABS should only occur where it providers overall benefit to the public;
    • Quality – the quality of information for decision making was seen as very important, with many participants emphasising the value of quality;
    • Transparency – participants emphasised the need for transparency and clear information as part of the Census collection activities;
    • Security – participants also emphasised the need for strong security in addition to strong privacy and confidentiality practices.

More specifically, feedback from focus group testing indicated a general level of support for retaining names and addresses from the 2016 Census for the purpose of data integration in the public benefit. There was strong community support for high quality data linkage, and acknowledgement that retaining name and address information was important to achieving high quality linked datasets. The majority of people felt that the use of anonymised names struck an appropriate balance between improving the quality of statistical information and safeguarding privacy. In cases where the linked datasets had not utilised an anonymised name linkage key, and therefore had a lower rate of successful linkages (60% – 70%), participants expressed concern about the quality and usefulness of the data and in particular the quality of decisions based on poor quality data.

In working through examples, focus groups were generally comfortable with existing and proposed ABS protections to preserve privacy and confidentiality but emphasised the importance of the ABS being transparent about how it handles people’s personal information and that the appropriate security practices were in place.

2014 Report Colmar Brunton.pdf



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.

Find out more about ABS data integration on our FAQ page.