Using DataLab responsibly


Roles and expected behaviours for being a safe researcher in the ABS DataLab


Roles and expected behaviours


  • encourages, promotes and supports the use of data for research and/or statistical purposes
  • provides training on guidelines and compliance requirements for safe researchers and safe use of data
  • provides a secure environment for flexible and wide-ranging microdata access to meet researchers' needs
  • provides a range of statistical packages and updates
  • provides adequate metadata
  • manages the authorisation, provision and removal of access to microdata
  • provides researchers with the principles and rules for safe outputs
  • provides a cultural review of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander data projects through its Centre of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics
  • checks outputs and provides advice on how to make outputs non-disclosive
  • responds to questions relating to the data, processes and systems, in a timely manner
  • respects researchers' academic independence
  • monitors and audits DataLab use to ensure compliance with procedures and legislative requirements

Lead researchers

  • submit your research proposal to the ABS by following the steps in the DataLab User Guide
  • provide an updated project proposal to reflect changes to the team, scope, project time frames and/or data requirements - use the 'Document history' section on page 2 of the project proposal to advise us of any changes
  • support your research team to adhere to DataLab safe researcher practices and behaviours and building a culture of best practice within your team
  • provide feedback on the outcomes of your project and experience with the ABS microdata and DataLab upon project closure
  • provide ABS with two weeks notice before release and then provide a link to any published research stemming from the project's findings
  • advise the DataLab team immediately of any suspected incidents in the DataLab, including both data security or procedural failures
  • support the ABS in communicating key messages with your research team
  • adhere to any relevant requirements of analysts

Approved project team researchers/analysts

As an approved project team analyst, you have access to the DataLab and may discuss uncleared data with other approved analysts or discussants on your project team. You must:

  • meet all on-boarding requirements, including:
    • completing the safe researcher DataLab training
    • confirming you are willing to have your name, organisation, microdata you have access to, projects, and links to resultant papers published from the research on a register on the ABS website (unless otherwise agreed in advance)
    • confirming you belong to an organisation that has a Responsible Officer undertaking in place with the ABS
    • signing and agreeing to the conditions in the individual undertaking and other associated paperwork (including the Declaration of Compliance)
    • confirming in writing that you are not currently restricted from accessing government data, or any other data due to misuse of data or a breach of data policy/procedures
    • declaring you have at least three years’ quantitative research experience or university study with a significant component working with quantitative data, or if this is not possible comply with the pre-requisite skills and/or experience expected of approved researchers
    • having experience with at least one of the statistical analytical languages available in the DataLab
  • comply with ABS protocols and instructions for access and use of microdata in the DataLab
  • access only the microdata you have been approved to access - if you can access data that you believe you should not be able to, contact the DataLab team immediately
  • inform the ABS if you leave the project team or if you leave your organisation
  • only access the DataLab from a private location with a secure internet connection, not from public networks or spaces
  • protect your work area and screen from oversight by others, including unauthorised colleagues, family, children and pet cams
  • not screen share your DataLab session or content, even when meeting only with approved researchers on your project team
  • keep passwords for the DataLab secure
  • not share DataLab log in credentials
  • not attempt to identify individuals or organisations within data held in the DataLab
  • not attempt to match DataLab unit record data with any other list, database or repository of persons or organisations
  • not attempt to avoid, override or otherwise circumvent the system or procedures
  • not transcribe or copy anything from the DataLab prior to output clearance (this includes screen sharing or any written or photographic form)
  • not transcribe or copy anything from the DataLab prior to output clearance to share it with any other researcher (approved or not) or with ABS personnel or the Researcher Onboarding and System Support team
  • only use the shared project space within the DataLab to share uncleared work with approved project researchers or to communicate with ABS DataLab support areas about uncleared data
  • do not send outputs to be cleared to the DataLab team - you must request output clearance
  • do not attempt to link two microdata files within the DataLab at the unit record level based on matching characteristics, except where linking keys have been provided and the files are designed to be linked
  • not deliberately attempt to identify individual or organisational respondents or mishandle a spontaneous recognition event
  • be aware that data confidentiality is your responsibility when submitting outputs for review - see Confidentiality in ABS microdata and output guidelines for more information
  • report any security incidents or procedural failures to DataLab team immediately via and cc the lead researcher

Approved project team researchers/discussants

As an approved project team discussant, you do not have access to the DataLab but may discuss uncleared data with other approved analysts or discussants on your project team. You must:

  • meet all on-boarding requirements, including completion of the safe researcher DataLab training and signing of all relevant undertakings
  • seek approval from the ABS, via the project lead, if you wish to become a DataLab analyst
  • adhere to any relevant requirements of project team researchers/analysts

Guiding principles

External communication

We encourage you to communicate as much as possible within the DataLab environment.

If you need to communicate via other means, consider what is to be communicated and how the communication will take place to ensure that you do not inadvertently remove uncleared data from the DataLab.

Managing communication

  • You can use notes within the DataLab to leave messages for other approved project team members. Let them know that you have left a note and would like them to view it.
  • You can talk to your supervisor/s about the data, if they are approved researchers or discussants on the project, but consider the environment and who is around.
  • Phone calls and video conferencing may be used for discussions but never share your screen.
  • Do not transmit any uncleared DataLab output in an email, including with ABS personnel or the Researcher Onboarding and System Support team. Instead, let your approved project team colleague or the ABS know and ask them to view the issue within the DataLab. Similarly your approved colleagues or the ABS need to leave their responding information within the DataLab and let you know that there is information for you within the project in the DataLab.

Remote access

ABS trusts and supports approved researchers who remotely access the DataLab.

Remote access is permitted under the following conditions:

  • It must be used in a work or private location.
  • The screen must be protected from oversight by any other person. This includes password-protecting you screen, should you move away from you computer.
  • A secure internet connection must be used:
    • A secure internet connection means any Wi-Fi that is password protected (e.g. work, home, your hotel room, hotspotting from your phone)
    • A non-secure internet connection means an open or public connection like a restaurant/cafe, airport, public transport, hotel lobby or shopping mall
  • Overseas access to DataLab is not allowed under any circumstances.
  • Working in the DataLab from home is supported by the ABS but you are responsible for checking and complying with your organisation's requirements for working from home.
  • Do not use any type of internal messaging system which may have external server connections.
  • The DataLab screens are to be kept secure at all times whether you are working within your organisation or from home.

Further information is available in the Responsible use of ABS microdata user guide.

Requirements to become an approved researcher

Pre-requisite skills and/or research experience required of approved researchers

To be an approved DataLab researcher, you must have the analytical research experience to be able to carry out quantitative data research or analysis in the DataLab This includes the ability to use at least one of the statistical analytical languages supported in the DataLab. This may have been acquired through working on research, analytical or statistical projects. For example, a person who was employed for three years in a relevant field, such as a university researcher, research assistant or a government or non-government employee working in research or statistics. If they had worked for around half of their time on quantitative research projects, then they would have spent a significant component of their time working with quantitative data.

You may also have qualifications (either an undergraduate or higher degree) with a significant proportion of mathematics or statistics. A significant proportion of the degree should cover research method components and analytical fields, including:

  • qualitative data collection and research design, interviewing skills, conducting focus groups and ethnographic methods
  • quantitative data collection and research design, questionnaire design, sampling and weighting
  • hypothesis testing and evaluation
  • undertaking systematic reviews
  • data analysis, including data linkage, imputation and presentation of results
  • application of ethics to research

Other relevant undergraduate degrees may include psychology, demography, social policy, sociology, political science, geography, economics, and social statistics. If you have postgraduate qualifications, you may combine multiple degrees to ensure you meet this requirement. This is a cumulative requirement.

If you do not meet the above criteria but still want to access the DataLab, you may request a referral by an authorised researcher who is on the same research team as you. The referring researcher must meet all of the following requirements:

  • have at least three years of either quantitative research or analysis experience or university study with a significant component working with quantitative data
  • be working on the same project within the DataLab as the less experienced researcher
  • agree to directly supervise and take responsibility for the work of the less experienced researcher
  • have the agreement of a Senior Executive from the less experienced researcher’s organisation for this referral

Download the undertaking, declaration and referral forms.

The ABS does not provide support to researchers relating to statistical analytical languages or coding issues.

Publishing and citing data

Referencing DataLab data in publications

Preparing outputs to be published

  • Publishing refers to making information available to the public by any means.
  • The ABS encourages researchers to share their research findings (which have been cleared for confidentiality by the ABS) and make the results publicly available.
  • If the ABS have cleared and sent you your outputs from the DataLab it means they have passed statistical disclosure checks and are cleared to be released. 

When do I need to inform the ABS I am publishing? 

  • Any publication, report and presentation that references BLADE or PLIDA data needs to be provided to the ABS a minimum of 2 weeks prior to wider release. This is a requirement of our Data Custodians. This process does not seek approval from custodians, but rather is in place to give custodians visibility of project outputs, provide comments and brief Ministers, as required. Analysts are sent any comments or feedback provided by custodians on their publications.
  • Project teams can use outputs referencing BLADE or PLIDA data as part of preliminary analysis and to collaborate with others. This does not require the 2 weeks notice for the ABS. At this stage your outputs are considered as draft analysis and are not yet published and not for further circulation. When you are circulating this draft analysis, it should be clearly stated the analysis is draft and not for further distribution.
  • When your analysis is ready to publish that's when the 2 weeks clearance applies.

How do I cite my work?

Information and research using ABS data must be acknowledged.

When citing the ABS DataLab the preferred citation structure is as follows:

  1. Source of Data: e.g. Person-Level Integrated Data Asset (PLIDA).
  2. Date/reference period of data used
  3. PLIDA product: e.g. PLIDA Modular Product
  4. Pathway of access: e.g. ABS DataLab
  5. Statement: “Findings based on use of PLIDA data.
  6. Include an explanation of any processes or transformations which have been applied to that data
  7. If you are using data from ATO, DSS or Home Affairs you must also include the following disclaimer:

    “The results of these studies are based, in part, on data supplied to the ABS under the Taxation Administration Act 1953, A New Tax System (Australian Business Number) Act 1999, Australian Border Force Act 2015, Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999, Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 and/or the Student Assistance Act 1973. Such data may only used for the purpose of administering the Census and Statistics Act 1905 or performance of functions of the ABS as set out in section 6 of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975. No individual information collected under the Census and Statistics Act 1905 is provided back to custodians for administrative or regulatory purposes. Any discussion of data limitations or weaknesses is in the context of using the data for statistical purposes and is not related to the ability of the data to support the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Business Register, Department of Social Services and/or Department of Home Affairs’ core operational requirements.

    Legislative requirements to ensure privacy and secrecy of these data have been followed. For access to PLIDA and/or BLADE data under Section 16A of the ABS Act 1975 or enabled by section 15 of the Census and Statistics (Information Release and Access) Determination 2018, source data are de-identified and so data about specific individuals has not been viewed in conducting this analysis. In accordance with the Census and Statistics Act 1905, results have been treated where necessary to ensure that they are not likely to enable identification of a particular person or organisation.”

Please refer to these examples:

Example 1

Person Level Integrated Data Asset (PLIDA), 2021, Census of Population and Housing, ABS DataLab. Findings based on use of PLIDA data.

Example 2

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2020) Microdata: Personal Income of Migrants, Australia, accessed 15 December 2020

A citation of your work will be added to the short online description of your project once your work is published, See also How to cite ABS sources

Failing to comply with DataLab conditions of use

As an approved researcher, you have signed appropriate documentation agreeing to comply with data access provisions under relevant legislation, whenever you access detailed microdata in the DataLab.

If you suspect that you or others in your team may have failed to comply with a microdata undertaking, immediately cease the behaviour, notify the lead researcher and email as soon as possible.

For further information, see Consequences of failing to comply with a microdata undertaking in the Responsible use of ABS microdata user guide.

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