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The information being referred to in this IDP is statistical information that can be used to inform policy, research, advocacy and other information needs of governments, the NPI sector and researchers and contribute to a wider public understanding and debate around the dimensions of the sector and its role in delivering a wide range of social and other services. Given the substantial reliance of NPIs on volunteers to deliver services to members and the community, the IDP extends to the information needs of the volunteer sector. Government policy interest in NPIs embraces the contribution of volunteers.
This IDP has a primary focus on statistical information that is intended to be placed in the public domain. This includes data collected through government administrative processes, provided they are available or can be harvested in the future for statistical purposes. It is important that the design of administrative systems consider the statistical potential of any data collected.
STATISTICAL INFORMATION NEEDS – THE POLICY, RESEARCH AND ADVOCACY ENVIRONMENT
Along with private businesses and government agencies, Non–Profit Institutions provide a wide range of social, cultural, environmental and other services to their members and to the community. They generate substantial economic activity as employers and through their transactions with businesses, governments and the public. Statistical information systems in Australia are well developed for the business and government sectors, but there is a paucity of information on the activities and contribution of NPIs.
Governments partner with NPIs in providing a wide range of services to the community, including education, health, social services, housing, emergency services and employment placement. All levels of government have or are developing action plans to strengthen their relationships with the sector. Governments also have a regulatory role over fund raising activities conducted by NPIs.
At the Federal level this policy interest in the NPI sector is embodied in the Australian Government Social Inclusion Agenda, the National Compact with the Third Sector, the National Agenda on Volunteering and in relevant policy based portfolios. State and Territory governments have or are developing policies for their own constituencies. Included in these policies are action items to recognise and promote the full value and contribution of the sector and volunteers, to improve information sharing and access to publicly funded research, and to reduce administrative red tape and reporting costs.
The public has an interest to better understand the dimensions and role of the sector, and to engage in discussion and debate. NPIs and their peak organisations need a solid statistical evidence base to engage in the policy debate and to represent the interests of their members.
A number of Australian universities are involved in teaching, research and consulting activities related to NPIs. There is an active research community, and there are a number of national and international conferences devoted to research on the sector.
A MEASUREMENT FRAMEWORK
The Productivity Commission has proposed a framework that can be used to tease out the various aspects of the contribution of NPIs and to scope a data model to support it. It goes beyond the traditional input costs measurement and also includes outputs, outcomes and impacts. This is needed because a substantial part of the contribution of the sector is outside of the market pricing mechanism and requires a range of indicators of social outcomes and wellbeing of the population. The application of the framework to the measurement of outcomes and impacts is not well developed. Development is likely to be over the longer term.
AVAILABLE STATISTICAL INFORMATION
The key statistical source available to the Productivity Commission for its study was the ABS “Non–profit Institutions Satellite Account”, 1999–2000 and 2006–07. Despite the limitations of the satellite account as a comprehensive measure of the value of NPIs, the Productivity Commission was able to provide a satisfactory big picture assessment of the extent and structure of the sector, its funding and relationships with the wider economy using mainly this source.
The satellite account incorporates a range of published financial and other data on the sector. The surveys from which these data were sourced are useful sources of information on the sector in their own right. They include the ABS Survey of Voluntary Work, the ABS Survey of Non–Profit Institutions and other business surveys relating to NPI activities such as the Community Services Survey, Sports and Physical Recreation and Performing Arts. Some of these have been conducted infrequently.
The ACOSS Australian Community Sector Survey is an annual survey collecting a variety of information from the community and welfare sector, including factors affecting the current operating environment.
The ABS General Social Survey (GSS), incorporating the Survey of Voluntary Work, is a key source of information on volunteering available every four years. Another source is the Volunteering Australia annual “National Survey of Volunteering Issues”. State and territory governments have also produced studies of volunteering.
Giving Australia: Research on Philanthropy in Australia, released in 2005, was an initiative of the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnerships coordinated by ACOSS with substantial academic and sector input. It was a major contribution to quantitative and qualitative information on givers and the recipients of giving. Also, the QUT Australian Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies undertakes a study each year of tax–deductible donations claimed by Australians in their individual income tax returns.
A variety of financial and other information is available for various segments of the sector, from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (aged care), and from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) (non–government schools).
Most of the available information relates to inputs – source of funding, operating costs, volunteer time and imputed value of volunteer time. For some segments (such as non–government education and aged care) there is a range of output indicators available, but these are generally lacking for other sectors. There appears to be very limited outcome indicators information available for the sector, although government performance reporting indicators and the AIHW health and welfare indicators have not been fully explored for this IDP.
The ABS has not investigated the availability of micro data sets, including longitudinal data bases relevant to the sector from government administrative processes.
The satellite account and most other information sources focus on inputs rather than outputs, outcomes and impacts. The satellite account also provides an ‘at cost’ measure of the outputs of the NPI sector. However, this has limitations and there is a widely held view that alternative or supplementary measures using a variety of social indicators are required to help shift the focus towards outcome measurement.
The ABS satellite account and some of these other sources are compiled on an infrequent and irregular basis. No commitment exists for their ongoing compilation so stakeholders are not able to rely on the information being available in the future. The length of time between the two available issues of the satellite account (1999–2000 and 2006–07) was considered too long to satisfactorily monitor the rapid structural change in the sector over that time.
Ongoing sources of information on the dimensions and characteristics of household and business giving and government funding are needed for analysis of the ‘supply’ side of NPI funding.
There is a strong interest from governments and NPIs in improving and streamlining administrative processes around financial reporting and program evaluation at the government service agreement level. There is a need to reduce the reporting burden on NPIs. The recent commitment to a standard chart of accounts for sector reporting is an advance. Governments also need improved information to help with the coordination of programs to assist NPIs.
Researchers would like to explore ways to get access to administrative data sets for the purpose of research into program effectiveness and to better understand areas of unmet social need.
Governments require a better understanding of small community organisations. They have a very important social impact at the local level, and all levels of government have policies in place to support them. Knowledge of the numbers and activities of organisations, their location, their membership, and whether they are able to raise adequate funds to meet demands for services from the community is required to help plan and cost government support programs.
There is a need to make statistical information more accessible, and to better promote its availability to the sector and other stakeholders for use in policy development, program administration and monitoring, research and advocacy. Given the wide range of potential sources of information for the different parts of the sector, common classifications and other data standards are required to make sense of the information.
FUTURE DATA DEVELOPMENT
Future statistical information development requires a collaborative effort between the various providers – the ABS, other government data providers, industry peak bodies and the academic and research community. Also, future Australian Government decisions around the Productivity Commission recommendations, including the establishment of a Centre for Community Sector Effectiveness, Office for NPI Sector Engagement and a National Registrar for Not–For–Profits will have a significant bearing on the course of information development and leadership of future initiatives. What can be done in practice to meet the information needs for the sector will depend on resources available and priorities against competing demands on scarce resources.
Broadly, the information development needs are as follows:
1. A commitment is required to fund an ongoing Non–Profit Institutions Satellite Account to monitor growth and structural change in the sector. Stakeholders have suggested an account every three years would be satisfactory. This requires funding of the main data source, an NPI survey.
2. Options should be developed to increase the amount of activity detail and data by state and territory in the satellite account. Some improvement is highly desirable, but consideration also has to be given to the development and ongoing costs involved. The satellite account is designed to produce high level information and cannot meet all expectations for data. Also, the satellite account scope could be extended to include a module including all volunteering, (i.e. volunteer services provided to government organisations as well as NPIs) to better promote the value of volunteering in the community.
3. Research and consultation is required in order to scope high level output and outcome indicators appropriate to the sector. This is a substantial project. The work already undertaken to develop indicators for the government sector under COAG initiatives and by the ABS, AIHW and other agencies to measure social phenomena and wellbeing more generally would be important guides. The difficulty will be to develop indicators that are reflective of NPI activity separate to the multitude of other factors that would typically influence community wellbeing. University research institutes in collaboration with sector peak bodies and other agencies might be best placed to lead the early development of ideas and to undertake initial assembly of available indicators.
4. The ABS will provide advice on the various ABS volunteering data sources (the Census of Population and Housing, the General Social Survey and the Time Use Survey), their value, limitations, coherence and appropriate use.
5. There is an ongoing interest in ABS industry surveys such as community services, performing arts, sports and physical recreation and hospitality clubs because they present the sector alongside the government and for–profit organisations in an industry and enable analyses of sector shares and cost structures. In the future, large scale surveys of these industries will not be taken except on a user pays basis.
6. AIHW provides a large amount of data and analysis on health and welfare. Discussions with AIHW and other government organisations are required to look at possibilities for better highlighting the role of NPIs in their data.
7. There is a need for ongoing information on the dimensions and characteristics of household and business giving. Further consideration can be given to using the ABS GSS or Household Expenditure Survey for collecting this information. The ABS annual Industry Surveys would provide an appropriate vehicle to collect information on business giving (and possible philanthropic foundations) every few years.
8. Consideration should be given to a process for asking governments to make changes to government financial reporting systems to better distinguish payments to NPIs.
9. There is strong interest in having a more definitive estimate of the numbers of NPIs, their activities and locations. Some progress can be made by further analysis of administrative registries of the Australian Taxation Office and Australian and state and territory government registries of incorporated associations and charities. This should be further investigated. However, this source would exclude the very large number of small unincorporated associations. Local governments and sector peak bodies might have the local knowledge to provide small area information suitable for some purposes, and state and territory governments might wish to investigate this approach to meet their specific policy needs. There would appear to be significant cost–benefit considerations to consider before any attempt is made to firm up estimates of the number of unincorporated associations at the national level.
10. Government agencies that have service contract and other financial and regulatory relationships with NPIs should give consideration as to how to improve the availability of confidentialised micro–data information for research use, and more generally improve information sharing and access to research results consistent with the Australian Government’s National Compact and similar state and territory initiatives.
11. Government agencies that have service contract and other financial and regulatory relationships with NPIs should give consideration as to how to improve and streamline administrative processes around financial reporting and program evaluation, and how to optimise the collection and use of information, including for statistical purposes (collect once, use often).
12. Consideration needs to be given to a process to make the diverse range of statistical information available more coherent, integrated and accessible. The availability of information needs to be better promoted to the NPI sector, government agencies, researchers and the public.
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