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How we collected your information - the what, who, when, why and how of the Australian Census
The Census of Population and Housing (hereafter, simply “the Census”) is the largest statistical collection undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It aims to connect with every person in Australia and collect information about them and the place they are staying (houses, apartments, hotels, caravans, hospitals, etc.) in on Census night. The Census also collects information about those houses, townhouses, apartments, etc. that have no people in them on Census night so these can be included in the overall count of dwellings.
The Census counts all people in Australia on Census night (excluding foreign diplomats and their families). This means that visitors to Australia are counted regardless of how long they have been in the country or how long they plan to stay, but that Australian residents who are overseas on Census night are not included.
People in Norfolk Island on Census night were counted for the first time in the 2016 Australian Census following passage of the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015. The Territories of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island have been included in the Australian Census since 1996. Expeditioners to Australian bases in the Australian Antarctic Territory (and other locations) are also included in Census counts.
The most recent Australian Census was held on Tuesday 9th August 2016.
Information (or data) from the Census is unique because it is the only source of information for small areas (smaller than suburbs) and for small population groups (for example, small migrant groups) across the whole of the country. This detail provides richness to the planning, administration, policy development and evaluation activities of governments and other users.
Census data also provides the basis for official population estimates (the Estimated Resident Population) for Australia, state, territory and local government areas. These estimates help determine the distribution of government funds and the number of seats in the House of Representatives allocated to each state and territory. Australia’s Constitution states that the ‘number of members (in the House of Representatives) chosen in the several States shall be in proportion to the respective numbers of their people’.
For more information on the background, importance and uses of the Census, please refer to Census of Population and Housing: Nature and Content, Australia, 2016.
Reaching every person who is in Australia on Census night, and ensuring that every dwelling is counted, requires many years of planning and coordination. The aim is to develop a method of enumeration that is as efficient and effective as possible, while ensuring the quality of the information collected is of a high standard.
The 2011 Census and earlier
For the 2011 Census and earlier Censuses, the ABS relied on a large workforce in the field to list every household across Australia, then to knock on every door to attempt to make contact with householders and to deliver paper Census forms or online Census login codes. The field officers not only delivered and then collected Census materials but recorded some characteristics about the houses in which the people lived.
In 2011, generally less than half of doors were answered on each contact attempt, requiring field officers to return multiple times to dwellings to try to make contact. The sheer number of field officers required to cover the entire country was also beyond the capacity of the available labour market in some areas.
For more information about the method for collecting 2011 Census data, please refer to How Australia Takes a Census, 2011.
The 2016 Census
For the 2016 Census, the ABS developed a new method that addressed the difficulties in recruiting field staff as well as investing in the advantages and efficiencies of new technologies. Changes were designed taking into account international best practices in Census taking and building on the Australian public's increasing access to and use of the internet, and their willing support of the Census.
The new method made three main changes from that used in earlier Censuses.
This method has sometimes been referred to as a ‘mail-out’ model, and it significantly reduced the number of Census field officers and the hours of Census field officer effort required to undertake Census enumeration. This contributed the majority of the over $100 million savings in the 2016 Census.
Approximately 80% of dwellings across Australia were, in the first instance, mailed a Census instruction letter which included a unique login number for the online form.
Adaptations to the standard mail-out model were developed to encourage timely response from people in areas where the standard approach may not have been as effective. These areas were identified based on a range of criteria, such as demographic characteristics, location, internet connectivity and the experience of previous Censuses. Some of these adaptions included:
In the remaining areas of Australia, a more traditional delivery approach (the 'drop off' approach) was used with Census Field Officers delivering materials to each dwelling, enabling householders to either complete their form online or mail back a paper form. In these areas, the Field Officers attempted to make contact with householders when dropping off the form, only making further visits to dwellings that have not participated.
The information on each household were received from Census Field Officers using handheld devices, call centre agents receiving public enquiries, receipt of completed online and paper Census forms. This information provided the ability to monitor progress on a near real-time basis and was used to highlight areas of lower response, or any other issue, so that alternative strategies could be enacted quickly to respond to these problems as they arose. Progress was monitored at small area levels, allowing varied strategies to be implemented to encourage response and increase data quality. In previous Censuses, collection of field information was paper based with hand-held devices used for the first time in the 2016 Census.
The collection methodology is described in more detail in Census of Population and Housing: Nature and Content, Australia, 2016.
As in previous Censuses, in 2016 there were a range of approaches used for collecting information from specific population groups. These approaches were designed in consultation and collaboration with relevant communities and/or service providers to ensure the coverage of all people in Australia (including these specific populations) was as complete as possible.
Special strategies were developed to optimise accessibility and inclusion of the following groups:
Each of these strategies had one or more of the following components:
Specialised Field Staff: Field staff were employed to undertake specialist collection tasks. For example, locating hard-to-find populations, managing the distribution and collection of forms in complex housing establishments, or conducting interviews with respondents. A key objective when employing these field staff was to select people that were trusted by and knowledgeable of the people to be counted under this strategy.
Alternative Census forms: Alternative Census forms were used as part of some strategies. An Interviewer Household Form was used in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and in some urban areas. In some areas, a shortened version of the Census form was used to interview people sleeping rough as part of the Homelessness Enumeration Strategy. Forms were also available with large print, in Braille and translated into Auslan. The online Census form was certified as being accessible to Level AA, and tested with screen-readers and other assistive technologies.
Targeted communication: The ABS recognises that some people have difficulty or face barriers to completing the Census. For example, they might be away from home on Census night, live in a remote area or have difficulties understanding English. To overcome these barriers, a range of targeted communication strategies were developed to enable everyone to participate in the 2016 Census. Census promotional and instructional materials were translated into a number of different languages, whilst a phone based translation service was also provided. The 2016 communications campaign holds more information about these strategies.
Community engagement: The ABS engaged with both national and local community organisations and stakeholders in order to understand the support needs of different communities, provide information on the importance of participation in the Census and to assist with completing Census forms. Census management offices were established in each State and Territory, as well as regional District Managers and Local Engagement Managers.
Planning and Testing
With such a large change made to the method for collecting information from the public, the ABS undertook a comprehensive testing program. A series of tests were performed leading up to the 2016 Census;
In addition to a rigorous testing program, the new method was informed by the best practices in Census taking around the world. The ABS engaged in a number of working groups and discussions with a range of countries to collaborate, share ideas and learnings, and refine the new approach. In April 2014, respected Census practitioners from the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, along with ABS Census counterparts who worked on the 2006 and 2011 Australian Censuses, undertook a review of the ABS’s plans and preparations for the 2016 Census. This review endorsed the new approach to the Census and provided valuable feedback, such as to make more use of mail when making contact with the public, and adopt more tailored approaches for particular areas or population groups.
The 2016 Census online form was improved greatly from previous Censuses. Developments were made to make the form simpler for people to use and faster to complete. The improvements included;
The paper household form and personal form (available from the Downloads tab) were very similar to those used in previous Censuses. However, in 2016 the front page of the paper forms were given a new look, incorporating instructions on how to complete the Census online.
Other versions of paper forms were used for areas or populations where a different approach was required. For people experiencing homelessness, field officers used Special Short Forms to collect their information. For people living in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, households had the option to provide information directly to a field officer using an Interviewer Household Form, or could complete their own paper or online form.
* Includes Other Territories
* Includes Other Territories
*Persons in private dwellings only.
*Persons in private dwellings only.
*Persons in private dwellings only.
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