2911.0.55.004 - Information Paper: 2011 Census Special Enumeration Strategies, 2011  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 31/08/2012  First Issue
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During the Census Operation
Key Challenges


The purpose of the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy (IES) was to ensure the Census provides an accurate count of the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. The IES has been evolving since special procedures were first introduced for the more remote areas of Western Australia and the Northern Territory in the 1976 Census. The strategy aims to be culturally appropriate and to raise the quality of the Census counts for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The IES was founded on the following principles, and these continued to be paramount for the 2011 Census:

  • A need for cultural sensitivity, including the need to engage with the relevant people and organisations, show respect for cultural protocols, and provide information using culturally appropriate language and design.
  • Providing support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in both urban and remote areas, to understand the importance of Census and complete their form. This support is provided in recognition that for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially in remote areas, English is not the first language spoken, or may not be spoken at all.
  • During each phase of the Census, seeking advice from local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people experienced in working with relevant organisations and communities to develop appropriate approaches.

The five-yearly Census of Population and Housing is the only comprehensive source of small area data about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A number of initiatives in recent years have reported on the disadvantage experienced by many of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Some of these initiatives have been driven by the Council of Australian Governments, others by the Australian Government and community groups. Many of these projects and programs, such as the commitment to Closing the Gap, are primarily concerned with overcoming the disadvantage gap that exists between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people (Endnote 1). Census data plays an important role informing, monitoring and reviewing progress of these initiatives.

The 2011 Census IES incorporated improvements to the enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in urban areas, as well as those living in remote communities. In some locations, the IES was integrated with other strategies, such as the Homeless Enumeration Strategy, to ensure appropriate cultural procedures were implemented.

The range of improvements to the IES contributed to achieving the main goals for the 2011 Census - to improve coverage and the quality of data collected. At a broad level, these improvements included:
  • earlier and more detailed ongoing engagement;
  • the integration of the IES with the mainstream enumeration strategy to ensure better coverage;
  • the reorganisation and increased flexibility of the field operation to ensure that for each area the appropriate enumeration methodology was used and documented;
  • a reduction in the overall enumeration period for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities;
  • increases in the number of field staff positions and people recruited to undertake the work;
  • systems and procedures to enhance the collection of management information and to allow for closer management of the field operation and the tracking of progress;
  • a greater level of support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who need assistance in completing their form, particularly in urban areas;
  • the creation of a Northern Australia Census Management Unit (CMU), based in the Northern Territory.


Development of the 2011 Census IES drew on the extensive evaluation undertaken on 2006 Census data and field processes, and advice from stakeholders. Improvements were implemented across the full range of Census operations.

While the ABS is responsible for conducting the Census, the support, endorsement and assistance provided by a broad range of stakeholders is critical to the successful implementation of each phase of the operations. Key stakeholders were identified as the Australian and state and territory governments, local governments, service providers and community organisations. These stakeholders assisted the ABS on all levels and in particular in relation to recruitment of field staff and public relations.

A number of internal stakeholder groups were established to clarify the issues of highest priority and to develop recommendations about how improvements could be made for the 2011 Census. The view of external stakeholders was sought through two ABS advisory groups, the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy Working Group and the Advisory Group on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics (AGATSIS).

The ABS conducts ongoing engagement work under its State and Territory Statistical Service Program to support early awareness-raising about the Census. The Indigenous Community Engagement Strategy (ICES) ensures that the ABS engages appropriately and effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations. The ABS employs Indigenous Engagement Managers (IEM) to support the ICES, and the role of these staff in the development phase of Census was to enhance the effectiveness of the IES through:
  • liaising and establishing rapport with communities in urban, rural and remote locations;
  • gaining an understanding of community characteristics and skill levels in relation to potential staff;
  • assisting in building an understanding of the benefits of the Census to the community; and
  • raising awareness with, and gain support from, organisations in urban areas to initially discuss the best way to conduct the count and obtain support with recruitment of suitable people; and later, to assist with the enumeration where possible.

The procedures and processes to be used in the Census, both new and old, were tested in a number of field tests conducted between 2008 and 2010. These tests were undertaken in a range of areas, in both urban and remote locations, to further develop and refine the methodology.

Closer to the Census, the ABS increased the level of regional engagement through the ICES, Regional Engagement Strategies, and the Local Engagement Manager (LEM) Strategy. LEMs provided an appropriate local level point of contact for gathering intelligence and developing networks. In some regions, the LEMs provided a critical link with local communities, resulting in better outcomes for recruitment during the Census operation.

Discrete Indigenous communities

Discrete Indigenous communities are defined as areas which have clearly defined boundaries and the people who live there are predominantly Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. The communities may be in remote locations or may be in, or near, towns - for example, in town camps.

In some discrete Indigenous communities, there are several reasons why standard Census procedures may not be appropriate for counting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These include:
  • the many different cultures and languages spoken among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and
  • the high number of people who move in and out of some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

In nominated communities where standard Census procedures were not appropriate, tailored procedures were used to conduct the Census. These procedures included interviewing each Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander household using a tailored form - the Interviewer Household Form (IHF) - and employing local people, where possible, to conduct the interview.

After consultation between community elders, other community representatives and ABS employees, which included IEMs and LEMs, a decision was made on the best enumeration methodology for each community. Factors including literacy and numeracy, size of family groups and transient nature of members of the community were considered. Each situation was assessed independently with the focus on ensuring the highest quality information was gathered.

Based on evaluation from 2006, changes were made to the IHF. Absent people were included in the main section of the form and the Indigenous status question was relocated to the main demographic page, in line with the mainstream Census Household Form. No other significant changes were made to the form for 2011.


Remote enumeration

To address the significant workload issues experienced in the 2006 Census, a new structure of staffing was implemented for 2011. In addition, the approach to designing 2011 collection workloads with Indigenous components resulted in workloads covering a smaller number of dwellings, leading to a significant increase in staffing. This also provided the required flexibility to use the most appropriate enumeration methodology.

Enumeration was managed, at the local level, by either an Area Supervisor Discrete Community (ASDC), or a team called a Remote Area Mobile Team (RAMT), with each being responsible for an average of five communities. ASDCs and RAMTs employed Community Coordinators to assist with recruiting, training and supervising Collector Interviewers. Community Coordinators also liaised with the community and assisted in workload planning. Collector Interviewers were employed to conduct interviews and provide interpretation where required. As in previous Censuses, it was important that where possible, local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who understood the local community, culture and language were employed.

A new Indigenous Collector Record Book was introduced to record the full history of the enumeration for every workload. This included a list of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the workload and any mainstream dwellings outside the community boundaries. All dwelling and person counts were summarised for easier reconciliation of information for the whole workload.

Urban enumeration

Enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in urban areas was carried out with improved focus on support and assistance and, where feasible, the option of interviewing householders was available.

Where planning had identified a high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a particular collection area, the Census Collectors' workloads were reduced in size, and Collectors were trained to offer interviews or other assistance. These Collectors were required to make up to three attempts during the delivery phase to contact the householder. If contact was made, an interview was offered. If householders declined the offer of interview, preferring to complete the form themselves, Collectors followed the mainstream procedure of offering the eCensus in the first instance, and then a paper form. In cases where contact was not made, Collectors left the paper Census form and eCensus material on the last visit.

Where planning identified where there were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people dispersed through a number of urban workloads, Indigenous Assistants were appointed by an Area Supervisor. The Indigenous Assistants were available in these areas for anyone who required support or assistance to complete the mainstream Census form.

Communication approach

Diversity in geographic locations, languages spoken at home, and access to information about government programs and services each raised specific challenges for how best to promote the Census to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and organisations.

The 2011 Census Indigenous Communication Strategy employed an integrated communication mix focussing on a strong use of peer-to-peer communication. A key component of the communication strategy was to raise awareness of the importance of identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in the Census. Specific messages, and tailored or modified campaign materials including advertisements were developed, with an emphasis on production of visual material, where possible. Materials were tailored for urban and discrete communities.

Well-known Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander personalities were used as Census Ambassadors at both a national and local level, to help disseminate campaign messages from trusted, independent, third party sources, who were well respected in their communities.

Print and radio media were heavily used in line with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audience communication preferences. This included paid advertising and media relations activities, such as media partnerships with Indigenous owned and operated media outlets, targeted editorial, media releases and interview opportunities.

Online communication and social media were also employed, including YouTube video content from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Census Ambassadors, and promotion via Facebook and Twitter.

Event participation and sponsorship at key Indigenous events in the lead up to the Census was also a key focus.

Urban poster Remote area poster


All state and territory Census Management Units actively tried to recruit local people to key positions in Indigenous workloads. The preference was to draw people from local communities who were able to provide local knowledge and networks. These positions required strong administrative and management skills, and in some areas it proved difficult to find local people with the required skills and the capacity to undertake the work. In these instances, staff from outside the local area were employed.

Remote enumeration

Of the two enumeration methodologies, RAMT worked well, as team members provided each other with mutual support and shared enumeration management across the team. By contrast, people working alone in the ASDC positions generally required more support from their Census Management Unit. Even though early engagement with service providers and key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations was undertaken to identify appropriately skilled and available people to undertake these roles, it was difficult to find the required skill level and capacity in the one person, particularly because of the part-time role. In Northern Australia, graduates and other staff from the ABS and the Northern Territory Government were provided with the opportunity to join RAMTs to enhance their appreciation of enumeration challenges in the remote environment.

Communication approach

The ABS commissioned independent market research to measure the effectiveness of the 2011 Census communication campaign.

Compared to the average of all Australians who participated in the research, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was found to have lower awareness of the Census, be less supportive of the Census, and less likely to be aware of Census communications. However, the communications campaign still made an impact by increasing awareness levels from 41 per cent prior to the campaign to 62 per cent following the campaign.

Interestingly, after Census night, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely than average to be aware of Census communications (72 per cent compared with 45 per cent for all Australians), but until then awareness remained significantly lower than average. This is a direct result of specialised activities and communications designed to engage and involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people which specifically occurred during this period.

The results of the 2011 Census showed an increase of 21 per cent in the number of Australians identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, compared to the 2006 Census.


1. Further information on the 'Closing the Gap' reform agenda is available through the website of the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs <www.fahcsia.gov.au>.