1015.0 - Information Paper: Transforming Statistics for the Future, Feb 2016  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 02/02/2016  First Issue
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The ABS has a central role in improving access to data. By leveraging our skills and experience, we have already made significant progress towards improving the availability and use of data, as advances in both technology and statistical methodology now enable us to provide greater access to data, but in ways that do not disclose sensitive personal information.

Microdata access is a priority under the ABS transformation agenda and is consistent with the objectives of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for public sector data management to:

      “...optimise the use and reuse of public data; to release non sensitive data as open by default; and to collaborate with the private and research sectors to extend the value of public data for the benefits of the Australian public.”
A Microdata Access Review has identified recommendations and a roadmap for changes needed over the next 12-18 months to enable flexible and wide-ranging access to ABS microdata for our external clients.

What are we trying to achieve?
  • a microdata service that is responsive to the needs of government, the research community and the public in a reliable and safe manner
  • increased user ease of analysis of ABS microdata through flexible access options
  • enhanced opportunities for partnerships with government and researchers
  • microdata dissemination systems compatible with new ABS foundational infrastructure
  • reduced effort required for analysis and dissemination, through streamlining internal and external analysis systems.
To modernise our approach, we are adopting the Trusted Access Model, adapted from international best practice. It is built on the recognition that mutual benefits flow from researcher access to public data and the value of partnerships that reflect trust and shared accountability. The model is being implemented in the ABS using the Five Safes Principles for the assessment of disclosure risk.

Figure 1. Five Safes Principles

Image: Five Safes Principles model

We are also applying the Five Safes Principles to ensure access to data can be granted in an appropriately safe environment. This has been reflected in the following activities:
  • growing number of in-postings, providing government staff with access to microdata in ABS offices
  • release of three detailed microdata files designed specifically for use within the ABS Data Laboratory (ABSDL), allowing users to perform complex modelling and analysis
  • pilot of a Virtual Microdata Laboratory (VML) at the Department of Social Services and Productivity Commission, providing authorised staff with secure access to microdata within their office
  • release of test files to assist users prepare code prior to ABSDL sessions
  • development of a training package for users of ABS microdata focused on shared accountability.

Case Study 1

Microdata files released in the ABS Data Laboratory (ABSDL)

To date, three detailed microdata files have been prepared and released specifically for use within the ABSDL with access points in each capital city ABS office:
This microdata was de-identified and confidentialised within the context of the other controls of the ABSDL, which offers security around who uses the data as well as how it is used. Sophisticated analysis can be conducted on these unit record files using a variety of contemporary statistical packages. Feedback from users has been very positive.

Case Study 2

Testing of the Virtual Microdata Laboratory (VML)

A pilot Virtual Microdata Laboratory (VML) system has been successfully tested at the Department of Social Services and the Productivity Commission. In effect, this means that the ABSDL is now available onsite to staff in these agencies. Further enhancements to the pilot VML system are planned for release in early 2016 to enable access to detailed microdata files by authorised staff in other government agencies and possibly research institutes.

There is more work to be done in undertaking one of the biggest changes in the ABS’ history and with the ongoing support of our stakeholders, we are confident we can achieve our vision of unleashing the power of statistics for a better Australia.