4906.0.55.003 - Personal Safety Survey, Australia: User Guide, 2016  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 08/11/2017   
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Personal face to face interviews were conducted with one randomly selected person aged 18 years or over who was a usual resident of the selected household. Interviews were conducted from 6th November 2016 to 3rd June 2017. Contact time for fully responding interviews was, on average, around 33 minutes.

The 2016 PSS was conducted under the authority of the Census and Statistics Act 1905. This ensures that the ABS has the authority to ask questions and that the confidentiality provisions of the Act will be applied, as in all ABS surveys. However, because of the potential sensitivities of parts of this survey, the compliance provisions of the Act were not fully applied and the survey was conducted on a part voluntary basis.

A Survey Advisory Group provided input in relation to special survey procedures.


Information was collected by specially trained ABS interviewers, from both an on-going and non-ongoing panel.

ABS interviewers were provided with detailed instruction manuals about the survey content and the procedures to be followed and also attended a comprehensive two day survey training program (for further information, see the Training section below).

To help ensure respondent comfort and well-being, as well as encourage participation, the ABS primarily used female interviewers for the PSS. It was considered that, on balance, men and women may be more likely to feel comfortable revealing sensitive information about their possible experiences of violence to a woman. This was based on collective advice from experts in the field during survey development, was in line with the successful procedures followed for the 2005 and 2012 PSS, and was also supported by the 2016 PSS Survey Advisory Group. To cater for instances where this might not be the case, the ABS also trained a small number of male interviewers to allow for situations where a respondent preferred their interview be conducted by a male. No requests for a male interviewer were made for the 2016 PSS. In addition, the introduction of the Computer Assisted Self Interview (CASI) in the 2016 PSS also provided an alternative for those people who felt uncomfortable reporting their experiences to a female interviewer (for more details on the CASI, see Interviews section below).


Specialised Personal Safety Survey training was conducted for interviewers to ensure all interviewers used a standard approach.

The two day training program included sessions to familiarise the interviewers with:

  • The concepts addressed in the survey (definitions)
  • The specialised survey procedures developed for the survey (including sensitive approach methods to maximise response)
  • The Computer Assisted Interview (CAI) instrument (via Computer Assisted Personal Interview - CAPI and Computer Assisted Self Interview - CASI)
  • Administrative aspects of the survey
  • Sensitivity and Awareness Training

The Sensitivity and Awareness Training session aimed to increase interviewers' awareness of the experience of survivors of violence, and their own response to the topic. It also provided techniques to assist interviewers to deal with difficult or emotional interviews and to react professionally and appropriately to the topics addressed in the survey. The ABS utilised external consultants specialising in this field to provide this component of the interviewer training.

A support network was put in place to provide support, stress management and coping strategies for interviewers while they were working on the survey. The main components of the network were access to counsellors, a contact person in the office and the provision of voluntary emotional debriefing sessions at the mid-point and at the end of enumeration. Interviewers were strongly encouraged to use this network.


A Computer Assisted Interview (CAI) instrument was used for the 2016 PSS. It contained a household form and a personal questionnaire. The household form collected, from any responsible adult within the household, basic demographic data, such as sex, age, country of birth and details of the relationship between individuals in the household. The instrument then randomly selected an in-scope person of the pre-assigned gender to be interviewed. If there was no in-scope person of the pre-assigned gender, an in-scope person of the alternate gender was selected. For more details on the requirement for pre-assigned genders, refer to the Sample Design section of the Methodology page of this User Guide.

The survey questionnaire was designed and thoroughly tested according to standard ABS procedures. Factors taken into consideration included:
  • The length and wording of questions
  • The suitability of response categories
  • The sensitivity of the subjects and issues to be covered
  • The ability of people to recall events which occurred in the past
  • Minimising and simplifying instructions
  • The logical sequence of the instrument
  • The inclusion of edits
  • The suitability of the questions to be conducted via CASI
  • The length of interviews

Careful consideration was also given to the structuring of the instrument, so that more sensitive topics were progressively introduced. Information was recorded by interviewers (during a CAPI) or respondents (during a CASI) in a number of different ways, such as:
  • Predetermined response categories - This approach was used for recording answers where a limited range of responses were expected, or where the focus of interest was on a particular type of group of responses. Response categories were listed in the survey instrument and were expected to cover all given responses.
  • Running prompt (CAPI only) - In these questions, predetermined response categories were read out to the respondent one at a time until the respondent indicated agreement to one or more of the categories (as appropriate to the topic) or until all predetermined categories were exhausted.
  • Prompt cards (CAPI only) - Where appropriate, printed lists covering the range of possible answers to the question were shown to the respondent who was asked to select the most relevant response, or, for example, provided examples of actions that may have been taken in order to provide context to the responses being sought. By listing a set of possible responses (either in the form of a prompt card or running prompt question) the prompt served to clarify the question or to present various alternatives, to refresh the respondent's memory and at the same time assist the respondent to select an appropriate response.
  • Responses for coding - This method was used for family, country of birth, and education qualifications questions. Responses were recorded by the interviewer and either automatically coded by the instrument or subsequently coded by office staff. For further detail regarding this coding, see the Data Processing and Coding page of this User Guide.

A copy of the 2016 PSS Questionnaire and prompt cards are available through the Downloads tab of this User Guide.

Testing of the questionnaire

The questionnaire was field tested via cognitive testing and a dress rehearsal. These tests were conducted to ensure:
  • Data was obtained in an efficient and effective way
  • There was minimum respondent concern about the sensitivity or privacy aspects of the information sought
  • There was effective respondent/interviewer interaction and acceptable levels of respondent burden
  • The usability of the CASI instrument
  • Sufficient information was provided in the question or as part of additional information attached to the question for the respondent to understand and answer the questions appropriately
  • Operational aspects of the survey were satisfactory; e.g. arrangement of topics, sequencing of questions, adequacy and relevance of coding frames, etc.

Targeted interviews with people who were known to have experienced violence were conducted at crisis support centres in Victoria as part of the Cognitive Testing. This phase involved a series of questions being asked to probe the respondent for question meaning, comprehension and gather information on potential areas of content development. The main purpose was to ensure that the content of the survey was effectively tested on people who have experienced violence as well as obtaining feedback about their reactions to the survey's content. Specific testing of the CASI was also conducted in these centres in order to test the ability of respondents to complete the sensitive topics themselves and identify any areas where questions could be raised. It also confirmed whether the practice questions were sufficient to provide the respondent with the relevant skills necessary to move through the instrument.

As is common practice for ABS surveys, the questionnaire was also tested using experienced ABS interviewers and applying the procedures and methods planned for the final survey. This dress rehearsal was conducted in New South Wales during February and March 2016.

The broad aims of the testing program were to test new and modified survey content to ascertain respondent reactions and identify any sensitivities associated with the survey content, test the wording provided at the Opt-out point (for details on what the Opt-out point is, see Interviews section below), test operational aspects of the survey instrument, and to assess the suitability of modified field procedures and the comprehensiveness of overall survey procedures and documentation. As a result of the testing program, the survey instrument was progressively improved and the methodology and survey procedures refined.


Due to the sensitive nature of the information being collected, as with previous cycles, special procedures were used to ensure the safety of those participating and the reliability of the data provided.

While generally the standard ABS approach was followed, there were also specific field procedures applied reflecting the sensitive nature and content of the survey. The aims of these procedures were to maximise response rates and to ensure the safety of both respondents and interviewers. They were also designed to help ensure confidentiality of responses and the integrity of data.

Household Contact Details Form (HCDF)

In considering the best method of advising respondents they had been selected to participate in the survey, for 2016 the introduction of an official letter and registration process (for registering contact details) was adopted.

As such, prior to enumeration, all selected households were sent out pre-approach material by mail that consisted of the following:
  • Registration letter and Leaflet, sent to the dwelling 21 days prior to enumeration
  • Reminder letter, sent 16 days prior to enumeration

The registration and reminder letters contained the log-on credentials to register and complete an online Household Contact Details Form (HCDF). The HCDF was used to gather respondent contact details and information on the best time to call to arrange an interview. This information was used to help interviewers plan their workloads and save unnecessary trips to selected dwellings.

The pre-approach mail-out was not possible for a small number of households for which the ABS did not have an adequate postal address. For households where there was an insufficient postal address but there was a physical address, interviewers left a copy of the Non-deliverable Letter informing respondents of their selection in a survey and requesting they contact the office to provide contact details and best time to call information to arrange an interview.

If households registered contact details for the survey, the interviewer called first to collect household details to determine who the selected person was so that arrangements to speak with them could be made prior to attending the house. If household contact details weren’t registered, the interviewer approached the house in person.

Household Approach

Due to the sample requirements (for more details see the Methodology page of this User Guide), each dwelling had an initially predetermined gender assigned. A series of screening questions were asked of the person answering the door, to determine the number of usual male/female residents aged 18 years and over. From this information the interviewer was able to determine whether the person they were talking to would be selected for interview (i.e. there was only one person of the predetermined gender in the household and the person at the door was that gender) or if further details of the usual residents would need to be collected to determine who would be selected for interview. Predetermining the gender of the person to be interviewed allowed interviewers to tailor their approach, depending upon who answered the door. For households which did not contain someone of the pre-assigned gender, someone of the opposite gender was selected (referred to as a gender-selection ‘flipped’ household). Again, the information from the screening questions could allow the interviewer to determine if the person at the door would be the selected person.

While every effort was made to ask the household spokesperson screening questions (in order to determine who the selected person would be), it was not always possible for the interviewers to do so. Sometimes the household spokesperson refused to answer the screening questions, or to answer the information about the usual residents and sometimes the household spokesperson would refuse on behalf of the selected respondent. In light of all the possible blocking points, interviewers were provided with specific training aimed at assisting them in gaining cooperation for the survey in order to ensure the highest response rates possible. With the first part of the 2016 PSS being compulsory, interviewers were able to also advise of people’s obligation to participate in the survey.

In order to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of the data collected, interviewers were instructed not to approach any dwellings known to them if they were not comfortable to do so. If they chose to approach the household they would also offer the household the option for another interviewer to attend. The introduction of the Computer Assisted Self Interview (CASI) to the sensitive part of the survey meant that there were not as strict rules as previous cycles regarding these situations and it was left to the interviewer and respondent to determine if they were happy to proceed.

Due to the workload allocation processes currently used by the ABS, occasionally an interviewer would be assigned dwellings in the same workload which were within eyesight of one another (unavoidable in cul-de-sacs and blocks of units facing one another). The ABS considered this a risk to both data confidentiality (given that the length of time taken to conduct a PSS interview may indicate the complexity of someone's life experiences to a neighbour) and response rates (given that neighbours may discuss the content of the survey with one another, causing a household who had not yet completed their interview to refuse). Interviewers were instructed to conduct an interview at one dwelling, but any dwellings within eyesight of the first were to be approached on another day or time.

Household Details

General characteristics of the household were obtained from any responsible adult (ARA) member of the household, either over the phone (if the respondent had registered and provided their contact details via the HCDF) or upon the first face-to-face contact with the household after the screening questions had been asked. This information included the number and basic demographic characteristics of usual residents of the dwelling (e.g. age and sex), and the relationships between those people (e.g. spouse, son/daughter, not related).

From the information provided by the ARA regarding household composition, those persons in scope of the survey were determined, and, on a random basis, one person aged 18 years and over of either the predetermined or ‘flipped’ gender was selected for inclusion in the survey.

If the dwelling contained no usual residents aged 18 years or over, no further information was collected from that household.


Selected respondents were first advised of the general nature of the survey. During the interview less sensitive questions were asked first, such as their demographic details and general feelings of safety. This allowed people to become comfortable with the method of questioning, to build a certain level of rapport with the interviewer and also to familiarise them with the survey content. Once the questions regarding a person's experience of violence were reached in the interview, respondents were informed of the sensitive nature of the upcoming questions and their permission to continue with the interview was sought (referred to as the Opt-out point). From this point the interview was voluntary, and respondents could choose not to proceed at any stage.

At this point the respondent was also advised that the interview would continue as a CASI, that is, the respondent would complete the interview themselves using the interviewers’ laptop. The CASI mode was introduced for the PSS in 2016 due to the sensitive nature of the information being collected and as a method to improve response rates. The CASI reduced respondent and interviewer burden as questions and responses did not have to be articulated therefore protecting the respondent’s privacy in circumstances where they did not feel comfortable discussing the topics.

However, if the respondent identified they were not comfortable with using a computer or wanted the interviewer to continue, the interviewer could offer to continue conducting the interview (referred to as a Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI)). In these situations, it was a specific requirement that all CAPIs for the sensitive topics were to be conducted alone (including no children) in a private setting. Interviewers were advised that it was preferable to obtain a private setting (whether in the home or at an alternative location) from the beginning of the interview in order to avoid disruption. Interviewers were also advised that if the respondent chose to complete the voluntary component as a CASI, they should ensure that other people could not see the screen or respondent reactions, or hear any queries the respondent may ask them about the questions. If they could, then the interviewer was to follow the same procedures as a CAPI.

Approximately 2,600 respondents chose not to proceed with the 2016 PSS beyond the Opt-out point (classified for PSS 2016 as an adequate complete interview). This is an increase from previous surveys. However, in previous PSS cycles the majority of these respondents may have refused either at the door or prior to commencing their personal interview as a result of those cycles being fully voluntary.

For those respondents who continued on to complete the survey, 11,478 completed the interview as a CASI and 9,764 completed the interview as a CAPI. Respondents aged 65 and over were the most likely to complete the survey via a CAPI, with three-quarters of their interviews being conducted via CAPI. For more details on the characteristics of CASI and CAPI respondents, see the Response Rates page of this User Guide.

The questions asked during the interview (or even just raising the topics that were to be asked about) may have caused emotional distress for some respondents. With this in mind, the ABS provided an information card providing contact details of some support services. This card was offered to all people at the conclusion of an interview where the sensitive nature of the voluntary component had been revealed (i.e. from the Opt-out point onwards). This was irrespective of whether the respondent chose to continue through the voluntary component or not.

Proxy Interviews

For the 2016 PSS, the option of proxy interviews was introduced if required. Proxy interviews were offered to respondents where they were unable to participate in interviews due to any of the following reasons:
  • Language barriers and required interpretation by a household member
  • Significant illness/injury/disability which prevented them from being able to answer for themselves at any time
  • An ABS translator could not be organised

For proxy interviews, a household member of the respondent’s choosing was able to answer the questions in the survey on the respondent’s behalf. However, only the compulsory components of the survey were asked by the interviewer i.e. demographic information such as household information, ancestry and language, education, employment, income, disability, social connectedness and general feelings of safety.

For these interviews, the sensitive voluntary component of the survey was not mentioned and questions on these topics were not asked. This was to ensure the safety of those participating (where the respondent may have been living in the same household as a perpetrator) and the reliability of the data provided (where the respondent may not have felt comfortable revealing sensitive information through an interpreter/other family member, who may not have been aware of the respondent's past or current experiences).

To cater for instances where a respondent did not speak English, a small number of interviewers with foreign language skills were trained to conduct PSS interviews and were mainly used for interviews in areas not significantly far from their local area. In these cases the full survey, including the voluntary component, could be conducted and were not classified as proxy interviews.

The use of proxy interviews for the compulsory part of the survey had the primary purpose to provide information on the possible under-representation in the survey of particular types of respondents, such as those from a non-English speaking background or with a profound or severe communication disability. The data from these respondents has not been output on the final weighted file, which contains only fully responding respondents.

There were approximately 940 interviews conducted using a proxy for the full compulsory component and were classified as an adequate complete interview. Of these, 26% were identified as having a profound or severe disability and 44% were identified as speaking English not well or not at all.