|Setting priorities for data collection|
In deciding what information to collect, the management of the Survey is guided by the ABS mission statement. The statement specifies that the ABS' role is to assist and encourage informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community.
The ABS also places a high priority upon satisfying the needs of users in modifying collection development, where possible taking into account the comments of businesses who will be providing the information. A periodic user consultation process is undertaken with the objective of identifying issues where information is required, determining changes needed to meet these requirements for the forthcoming collections, and assessing priorities amongst the broad range of existing and new requirements.
Form design and pilot testing
After decisions have been made about users data requirements and the content of collections, a 'prototype' form is designed and tested by businesses to provide feedback on the form's structure, wording, readability, relevance, etc. This 'pilot testing' is designed to ensure that any flaws in the form design are corrected prior to printing the final version. In most instances more than one round of testing is conducted.
Planning and approval
Each year, survey plans, including proposals for collecting additional information that are funded by other organisations, have to undergo clearance from the ABS management as well as the Statistical Clearing House (SCH). They have to be submitted by September each year. The SCH, which is the central clearance point for all Commonwealth Government surveys involving 50 or more businesses, has the responsibility to ensure there is no duplication of data collection from businesses and that good practice is followed when designing and conducting business surveys. Surveys satisfying the SCH review criteria receive an approval number to be displayed on survey material received by the respondents. Surveys that do not satisfy the criteria are not permitted to go into the field.
Sample design and selection
The target population of all businesses in Australia is defined on the basis of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC). Once the population has been determined, a stratified sample is selected. This involves dividing the population into homogenous strata so that units may be selected from each strata that are considered representative of the whole strata. In this way provider load and standard errors of estimates are minimised.
Despatch and collection of forms
The Economic Activity Survey is conducted through a 'mail-out, mail-back' approach supplemented with business income tax data obtained from the Australian Taxation Office. Forms are mailed out to selected respondents normally in August to be completed, then returned in a reply-paid envelope. Once forms are despatched, all efforts are made to ensure that as many as possible are returned with the information requested. Reminder notices and telephone follow-up are used.
Data entry and editing
The data from completed forms are entered into a database. Edit checks are conducted on the data before, during and after entry to the processing system to ensure the integrity of the data.
Estimation and imputation
If a sample were to be fully representative of its population, then the results obtained would be the same as those obtained from a collection based on the whole population. Estimation is the process whereby sample data are 'weighted-up' to represent the population. Using the data returned by the sample, the aggregate value of each data item for the whole population is estimated. Where data for some items or records are missing or invalid, an acceptable estimate is used. This imputation is used under limited circumstances and in accordance with predetermined rules.
Data aggregation and dissemination
The data provided by survey respondents are aggregated and verified to ensure confidentiality is maintained and that data are of an acceptable standard for release. The next stage is the production of publications and datasets for release. As well as the paper publications, data are also prepared in electronic format for release.
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