1504.0 - Methodological News, Jun 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/07/2001   
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The Australian Business Number (ABN) system has recently been implemented into Australian businesses as part of Federal Governments' reform of taxation. There is a subsequent push for government agencies to use ABNs in their transactions with the public. These factors have led the ABS to consider how we could use ABNs to our advantage as an identifier for linking statistical units and as a Sample and Frame Maintenance trigger. A standard approach for confirming ABNs on questionnaires was needed and testing was initiated by Economics Standards Section to find the best way to do this. The Forms Consultancy Group's (FCG) interest in the project is in the process of testing the effectiveness of the chosen questions and what impact the questions may have on the layout of the rest of the questionnaire.

The BUS test

The Birthing Units Survey (BUS) was selected as the vehicle for the first round of testing. A split sample design allowed the comparison of two different form types, each asking the respondent to confirm if a preprinted ABN was the one that belonged to their business. One form type used a "please correct" box above the address and the other used two direct questions. The aim of the test was to demonstrate if one form type was more effective than the other or if neither was effective. The form types would be ineffective if respondents currently had ABNs that were different from the preprinted number on their form but did not change it. There is a high risk of this happening if respondents do not read the questions properly.

The Post Enumeration Survey (PES)

To evaluate how effective the two form types were a telephone PES was conducted on a subsample of respondents. FCG developed interview scripts for the PES, with assistance from the Victorian Maths Stats Cell (MSC) and Economics Standards, to ensure consistency between interviews. Four different scripts had to be written to cover four respondent groups: those who received each of the two form types, by those who changed their ABN and those who didn't. Different scripts, some sequencing and an infinite number of potential responses from respondents made the task quite complicated! The PES confirmed the business's ABN, and sought explanations of any differences. It was tested by FCG and the MSC on businesses who had responded to the BUS and based on testing the script was altered. The full PES was then passed on to the Business Frames Section to conduct.

The Error Analysis

To complement the PES with a slightly more quantitative test, FCG designed an error analysis for the two form types. This involved figuring out all the different ways respondents could have obviously filled out the ABN questions incorrectly or ignored them altogether. The Vic MSC then selected a subsample of returned forms and physically examined them to count the proportion of these errors. This examination turned out to be extremely valuable in assessing one of the form types and unlike the PES, it was not time-critical.

The Way Forward

While there were some limitations to the BUS test, we obtained some important information that we expect to feed into the development of improved ABN questions for a further test, preferably on a subannual survey. We also learned a lot about the process of testing changes to forms with several different groups of stakeholders and this has already fed into the planning for the next round. We intend to conduct similar procedures as in the last test, but administrative data from the ATO are also being investigated in the hope that this will provide supplementary information or enable more effective targeting of respondents.

For more information, including the actual results of our testing, please contact Emma Farrell on (02) 6252 7316.

E-mail: emma.farrell@abs.gov.au