How we’re preparing for the release of 2016 Census data and how it helps you
With ‘small area’ 2016 Census data due to be released by the ABS in June 2017, .id is already deep in preparation to ensure we can get the new information updated in our online local government tools as quickly as possible. You may be asking why we need to get ready six months in advance of the data release? So we thought we’d give you a sneak peek into the work that happens behind the scenes to convert ABS Census data into decision-ready information.
Comparing apples with apples – consistent geography
When making decisions about the provision of services for a community, it’s important to have information for meaningful geographic areas and to build a picture of how each area is changing over time. Our community profiles present 25 years of Census data – from 1991 to 2016 for customised geographic areas (suburbs, planning areas etc).
But it’s not as simple as loading the data from each Census into our websites because the ABS data is not generally output for the geographic areas our clients are interested in AND geographic areas change over time. Much of the value .id provides is in making the data user-friendly.
Some background: The smallest level of geography at which the ABS release Census data is called Statistical Area Level 1 (SA1). There are 57,523 SA1’s in Australia. It’s important to note that these SA1’s don’t translate into places that people identify with or use for community planning such as suburbs or local government areas (LGAs). In urban areas, they are a few street blocks in size. In rural areas, they can cover large areas. We use these building blocks to aggregate Census data into meaningful geographic areas. The trouble is that these building blocks change very Census. Our work is to resolve these changes so that you get an accurate picture of how places change over time.
Here’s a look into some of the work we put into making geographic areas easy for you to analyse and compare:
- First, we go through an in-depth process to assign each and every SA1 to a local government suburb, locality, or district that makes sense for our users. This helps us to build meaningful demographic profiles of people and places over time.
- Over time, SA1 areas change – either through changes in boundaries or as they are split over multiple suburbs or LGAs. To allow our users to easily compare information for consistent areas over time, small area groupings such as suburbs need to match the boundary that has been used before in previous Censuses, from 2011, 2006, 2001, 1996 and right back to the 1991 Census.
- In the same sense, where new areas have been created via council amalgamations or as an LGA changes its borders, we match the older Census information to the new geographic areas to allow for easy analysis over time. The ABS no longer recognise LGAs as a standard part of their classification, so many smaller areas have to be adjusted to match LGA boundaries.
- Where an SA1 needs to be ‘split’ because it straddles a boundary between two suburbs, districts, planning areas, wards, or LGAs, we go through a detailed process to estimate the population and characteristics of the area on each side. Using analysis of aerial and satellite photos, combined with our detailed knowledge of housing development data, we estimate the percentage of the population on either side of a boundary.
- We undertake this detailed ‘splitting’ of 2016 Census SA1 data for our 250 Australian community profile websites which include 3,987 suburban small areas and cover around 80% of Australia’s population!
- We do this work well in advance of receiving any 2016 Census data from the ABS so that we can get the new population information out to our clients in the most timely manner once the data are released.
- Then, when we get our hands on the ABS data, we check our estimates against the real numbers and refine the accuracy of the dataset.
Preparing for the new Census data
As we are working to prepare consistent areas, we also have some further work to do making the Census information topics and the websites themselves easy to use:
- Where Census topics have had changes in classifications in the 2016 Census, we concord these new categories to work with old Census data. For example in the Religion classification, there are a number of new religions which need to be matched to previous Census categories to allow for seamless time-series information for over six Census periods.
- The .id community of websites is being technically modified to be able to accommodate the new 2016 Census data. There is a heap of new data to include, so we are already testing our sites to make sure we can easily incorporate such a large amount of information and that it can be easily used for analysis. You may notice a few small changes to menus etc in preparation for the new data, mainly to make the sites easier to use as they grow with all the new information.
- Even ordering the data from the ABS is a task in itself – we require a massive Census dataset including detailed population, age, education, employment, income, household, housing etc. counts for every one of those 57,523 SA1s, all the LGAs, as well as cities, states and nationally. This data allows you to benchmark different areas to understand their role and function in relation to other areas.
What happens next?
You may see the ABS publicising their first release of Census data on 11 April 2017, but it’s important to note this first ABS release is only a preview of national and state level data to give an idea of the ‘typical Australian’. To give you an insight into some of these high-level state and national trends, we will blog about anything interesting following this release.
While it will be interesting to see what is happening nationally and there will be some good stories to tell, we won’t be able to update our Local Government websites until we receive the small area data set which is scheduled for release on June 27th.
Most of our local government clients will have this small area update included as part of their profile.id subscription and will start seeing new data roll out topic by topic from July this year. To check if you have the upgrade included as part of your subscription, contact your .id client manager for more information.
We will be releasing a more detailed timetable of .id updates, so stay tuned to the blog for our release dates.
The most data, ever
Following the 2016 Census, our online community profiles will have 25 years worth of data, from six Censuses! This is a fantastic information source to help you tell the demographic story of your area right down to the suburb level.
In addition, our population forecasts will have data for the next 25 years, out to 2041, for the same areas. So those clients with profile.id and forecast.id will have a 50-year time series for each suburb, a powerful resource for all levels of planning and advocacy in Local Government.
.id is a team of demographers, population forecasters, spatial planners, urban economists, and data experts who use a unique combination of online tools and consulting to help governments and organisations understand their local areas. Access our free demographic resources here.