The COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 bushfires are reminders that the Census, one of Australia’s largest peacetime operations, must be ready to adapt to unexpected events.
To make sure we can still deliver the highest quality Census, the ABS is preparing to use administrative data to fill any significant gaps that might be caused by unexpected events.
A bushfire, for example, might make it hard for residents in an affected town or area to complete the Census, while a national emergency like a large scale uncontrolled outbreak of a pandemic could lower response rates across the country.
Administrative data can help improve the population counts and fill in the gaps in some of the other information collected on Census forms.
This approach is guided by international precedent. Some other countries have successfully used administrative data to fill in gaps in their Censuses. For example:
- To achieve a high response in their 2020 Census, preliminary results show that the US Census Bureau used administrative data to count people in about 6% of houses. This was needed even after the time for collecting Census forms was increased from three to six months, due to COVID-19 delays.
- Stats NZ used administrative data to fill in gaps in their 2018 Census after a lower than expected response. Data for 89% of individuals in the Census dataset came from a 2018 Census form and 11% from administrative data. This produced higher quality counts compared to previous Censuses, although not all gaps in Census information could be filled.
- In Canada, a large bushfire at Fort McMurray interrupted the 2016 Census, with about 100,000 people evacuated from the area. For dwellings in the evacuated areas, if no response from field collection was received, Statistics Canada used administrative data to fill in basic information where possible.