Innovation in a time of crisis

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ response to COVID-19

The story in numbers

64 statistical products delivered in April and May 2020, a 21% increase over 2019

19 new statistical products in response to COVID-19 with 231 new web pages of statistical content

9.3 million page views on the ABS website, a 34% increase over the same period last year

298 media enquiries received, a 60% increase over the same period last year

2.7 billion daily observations were extracted from 351 million Single Touch Payroll (STP) transactions provided by the Australian Tax Office, and used to publish new insights into the labour market

An additional 4,000 household and 5,000 business interviews were used to draw COVID-19 survey insights

93% of ABS staff have worked at home at least some of the time, and 73% of were working from home all of the time

92% of ABS staff reported they are doing more or the same level of work than three months ago and 91% reported working the same or more hours

Almost 20% of managers reported staff productivity had increased since new working arrangements were put in place, with only 2% reporting a significant drop

Innovation in a Time of Crisis.pdf

Summary

The ABS is recognised as a provider of accurate, high-quality survey data. The spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) meant there was urgent need for relevant data to understand the impacts of the pandemic on the economy, individuals and businesses, and inform Australia’s response.

Like many organisations and businesses across the country, the spread of COVID-19 had immediate impacts on ABS business operations and created a threat to business continuity. We responded flexibly, adapting how we work to reallocate resources and reassess priorities to reduce delivery times for critical data.

The ABS was well positioned to support a remote and flexible workforce during the pandemic. ABS managers implemented changes to individual working arrangements to allow staff to balance work, caring and home-schooling responsibilities.

We enabled faster survey design and implementation, additional analyses of existing data, exploration of alternative data sources. We also developed three new, targeted surveys to provide our customers with the latest relevant information: Business Impacts of COVID-19, Household Impacts of COVID-19, and Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia. This provided insights into the impacts of COVID-19 on financial well-being, mental health and social behaviour.

For the first time, we released preliminary data to support earliest possible access to new information, while full analysis of the results was taking place. We also built new interactive maps of at-risk populations and employment distribution

Partnerships across government and private enterprise provided access to new data sources and fast-tracked the use of ABS statistics to inform the government response to COVID-19.

Throughout the response period the ABS has been actively monitoring lessons learned and capturing key decisions.