The latest on the Census
It’s been more than a week since Census day, so we thought it might be helpful to provide you with an update on what we know has happened so far and what’s next for the Census.
Since coming back online on Thursday 11th August, the Census website has remained operational.
The ABS have reported that more than 50% of Australian dwellings have now submitted a Census form, either online or via a paper form. In 2011, 98.7% of people were counted in the Census.
The attack on the website was purportedly not a hacking attempt, but a malicious attempt to stop people accessing the Census form at the busiest time (denial of service attack).
What happens now?
With the website stable and data secure, I’d encourage people to give the online form a go again – or if you prefer to use a paper form, you can call the ABS on 1300 820 275. Alternatively you can get a paper Census form from an ABS Census field officer.
Census field officers will follow up households who haven’t submitted a Census form starting this week (August 17) in mainly rural and inner city areas that had paper forms and login codes dropped off before census, and next week (from August 24) in areas that had login codes sent in the post to valid addresses.
What if you haven’t received a form?
The communication from ABS about how different households were getting a Census form has not been very clear, and people have been left confused about the process. Many households are reporting not receiving a form at all, and not being able to get through to the Census enquiry service to request one.
Here’s what we know about how Census forms were delivered:
- The majority of areas in metropolitan Australia were mailed a login code to access the Census online website. This was sent to all valid non-business addresses – but some dwellings without a valid address like granny flats and very new dwellings did not receive one and had to call to request a login.
- Some areas within the mail-out zone were mailed a paper form with a login code – these areas were mainly chosen because they had elderly populations less likely to do the form online.
- 20% of Australia, predominantly inner city and rural areas, had forms dropped off in the traditional way, with a Census field officer delivering a paper form and/or login code, and a return mail envelope.
- Some communities like remote indigenous areas and homeless populations have been approached by trained interviewers to complete Census forms. Various other strategies were also used, including people filling out personal forms in hotels and nursing homes.
Looking at this distribution, it would have been useful for the ABS to have communicated this better and even provide a map or address lookup service on their website so people could check how their form was expected to be delivered.
It’s fair to say that demand for paper forms was higher than anticipated. Understandably some people are reticent to put their details on the online site after it was out of operation for some time. However I can report that doing the Census online was a breeze for me and my family once the site came back online. It guides you through the questions and is a whole lot easier than the paper form.
The good news is that the ABS field officers will have paper forms with them, and those people who have had trouble getting a paper form sent to them can simply request one from the field officers (of it not home they will leave one). They will also have mail-back envelopes so the completed Census forms can easily be returned to the ABS.
What about the data?
Does it matter that the Census is no longer a snapshot? Not really – the 9th of August is the reference night for Census, but relatively few of the questions actually relate to that day, and most people’s circumstances don’t change that much in a few weeks, and they can remember where they were on the night.
In reality, no Census is completely a snapshot – many people usually fill it in sometime before or after the night. This time it’s just extending a bit longer. And this was the plan for the 2016 Census – in mailout areas, field officers were only intended to start following up from the 26th of August, giving households plenty of chance to self-respond.
Is there a minimum response rate to make the Census valid?
There isn’t really a minimum response rate required and there is never complete coverage in a Census. A small number of people are always missed, often through no fault of their own. Most people are happy to complete the Census as it provides such tremendous value to the nation, and most people will at sometime or another use or benefit from the data.
In 2011, the coverage was 98.3% (i.e. 1.7% of people were missed). This is estimated by the Post Enumeration Survey, conducted by interviewers after census collection is complete.
Figures quoted in the media have said that 70% returns will be enough to declare the Census ‘valid’. In reality there is no such figure. 70% would be incredibly low, and it’s unlikely to be that low. However the number of people not counted is likely to be higher than in previous years, due to the nature of collection, negative publicity and the website being down on critical days.
It’s not the undercount that matters so much as the distribution of undercount across places and sub-populations. For instance, if no recently arrived migrants filled out the Census form, or an entire town didn’t receive their forms, that would be more of a concern than a uniform 1% of population missing out across the board. Here’s a great article on this topic.
How long do you have to get your Census form in?
The online Census website will be available until September 23 but it’s really intended that everyone should have their Census complete well before then.
ABS field officers will be in the mailout areas from August 26 following up non-responding households. So if you are intending to wait until the last minute, be aware that you may receive a number of visits from Census field staff knocking on your door following up before that date.
As always at .id, we encourage everyone to fill in their Census form accurately. The Census is really the only source of small area and small community population data and it only happens once every 5 years. Local Governments and industry around Australia depend on this information for planning at all levels. While this Census has definitely had some challenges, and communication from the ABS has not been the best, there is still plenty of time to make this Census great.
.id is a company which analyses, enhances and presents Census data in user friendly web applications. You can access our population profiles for free to explore how previous Census results relate to your local area: .id Community profiles for Australia and New Zealand.