1504.0 - Methodological News, Jun 2003  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 08/03/2004   
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The Queensland Local Government Business Statistics Centre (BSC), with advice from Methodology Division's Forms Consultancy Group, recently undertook a post enumeration survey (PES) of 22 respondents in the quarterly Local Government Finance Statistics collection. This collection is centralised in the Queensland office. A new electronic Microsoft Excel form was introduced for the September 2002 quarter, with electronic lodgement through the ABS secure deposit box. These changes resulted in significant improvements in response rates, timeliness, and data quality. In view of these changes, the PES had three broad objectives:

  • examine the quality of data reported to ABS by councils and identify areas where forms design or data quality aspects of the collection methodology can be improved;
  • evaluate the electronic data reporting (EDR) process and instrument with a view to improving and expanding the ABS' EDR policy; and
  • begin to implement some aims and principles of Total Approach Management (TAM) for a well defined and relatively homogenous provider group.
TAM is a framework or overarching vision for designing, acquiring and processing inputs from respondents, and for monitoring and improving these processes. This exercise progressed the three TAM aims:

Develop best practices for economic collection instrument evaluation:

The Local Government BSC sought to address issues through the PES based on the background of known problems and input from stakeholders. The visit protocols were then developed and field tested before the main field work took place. Conclusions were:
  • testers need a well-developed visit script and a good understanding of some accounting standards and procedures;
  • there is some respondent confusion between the data requested annually by the State Grants Commission and data reported to ABS;
  • respondents need to be notified of collection instrument changes in advance so they can prepare appropriately; and
  • while ABS seeks revisions to previous reporting periods, most respondents use industry accounting standards based on 'year-to-date' reporting, meaning that a revision to previously reported data is made by addition to or deduction from the current reporting quarter.

Explore provider segmentation opportunities:

Local councils appeared relatively homogenous, technically capable, and amenable to a specialised collection approach as a distinct provider group. Two aspects of a segmentation approach to collecting are:
  • to expand the existing secure electronic reporting channel to include a range of non-financial data on behalf of different ABS subject matter areas. Combining data requests would rationalise respondent load through reducing points of contact and number of individual collection instruments ABS dispatches to councils.
  • considering the possibility of increasing automated or semi-automated data extraction and reporting.

While councils were in favour of electronic reporting, the PES found that the financial areas who completed the current electronic excel survey form were not involved in a wider reporting role. One reason for this is the inability to separate out Excel worksheets for distribution to other areas in council, such as environmental and human resources (specifically payroll) departments. Individual electronic instruments would still have to be despatched to other areas of interest to the ABS inside councils.

There is no immediate potential for automatic data extraction as respondents were happy with their current manual transcription methods. The financial activity sought in the current collection necessitates an amount of judgment and allocation/classification of finance data. The major reason for manual allocations of data is councils use of varying proprietary packages, implemented by individuals in different ways.

Continue work on the design, usability and application of electronic reporting:

The EXCEL 'e-form' and ABS Web-based secure deposit box were both very well received. Suggestions for improvement were:
  • provide further text areas to each worksheet that would aid in revisions to data and encourage comments pertinent to each section (because there is one worksheet for each section of the instrument);
  • give a unique receipt number along with an acknowledgment that data has been lodged on the secure Web-site;
  • provide 'year to date' running automatic totals; and
  • include an electronic version of comprehensive notes and classifications.

For further information, please contact Tracey Rowley on (02) 6252 5905 or, Robert Hall on (07) 3222 6053.

E-mail : tracey.rowley@abs.gov.au