Communities of Interest: The Census superpower

Communities of Interest: The Census superpower

Andrew Hedge 21 Sep, 2018

Of all the valuable data we get from the Census, this little trick is our best-kept secret.

We’re talking about cross-tabulated data, but at .id, we call them Communities Of Interest (CoIs).

In this piece, we share how one council (among many others) is using these powerful datasets to

If you don’t have Communities of Interest in your council area you can learn more about the detailed profiles available here.

What are Communities of Interest?

The Communities of Interest (CoI) module gives you detailed demographic data about people with a shared characteristic in your community.

As we travel the country briefing councils and community groups, we always start with the big-picture stories about local demographic trends and changes.

But when we get to question time, inevitably, most questions are about a particular subset of the community;

“So we’ve got an ageing population. How many of the people aged 65+ are still living in 3-bedroom homes? 


“I see we have an emerging population of Burmese migrants. What qualifications do they have? Have they found jobs?”

These pointy, specific questions quite often come from teams planning services, because they need to understand these groups, who are often disadvantaged or reliant on support services. How they live, their employment status, their skills and qualifications, age, ethnicity, if they need assistance in daily activities and other demographic traits affect the type of services they might need and how those services are delivered.

Case study: Maroondah Council

One council that is making the most of this data is Maroondah City Council in Melbourne’s East.

Maroondah, like many other middle-ring councils, has pockets of both affluence and disadvantage within their local government area.

When you think of ‘pockets’ of disadvantage, you might think of geographic clusters (certain suburbs or neighbourhoods). However, sometimes disadvantaged groups (such as elderly people, or people with a need or assistance) don’t congregate in a single area, but live in different places throughout the community.

So if you want to build a demographic profile of these people, you need to ‘group’ them not by where they live, but by a shared characteristic. This is what we do with Communities of Interest.

Examples of characteristics we’ve chosen for our Communities of Interest modules include certain age groups (eg. young people and the elderly), the Indigenous population, Non-English speakers and people in low-income households (see the full list available here).

To put this data in a real-world context, I recently spoke with some people in the planning and community services teams at Maroondah City Council to understand how they’re applying the detailed insights they get from the Communities of Interest modules in their online community profile.

Identifying emerging communities

In his role as Active and Healthy Ageing coordinator at Maroondah council, Richard Joseph was involved building a diversity profile of the area. One group Richard and the team were particularly interested in understanding was Maroondah’s emerging Burmese community.

The ‘Overseas born’ Communities Of Interest module allows Richard and the team to see which Census period people arrived from Myanmar, China or India and Sri Lanka. They can also see how well people in these communities speak English, their level of education, employment status, the type of housing they live in and more (while understanding how these emerging and established communities are changing over time).

Calculating the uptake of services

Richard is also responsible for coordinating the delivery of Commonwealth services for people with disabilities and those aged over 65.

By cross-referencing his own data about the number of people accessing services with the number of people in Maroondah who have a need for assistance, Richard is able to determine what percentage of people with a need for assistance are accessing the available services.

A whole of council approach to healthy communities

A detailed understanding of the aged community of Maroondah (in particular) helps Richard advocate to other parts of council for the needs of this community, to ensure things like adequate seating and rest areas are considered when council is developing the built environment. By ensuring these public spaces are accessible and enjoyable for older people in the community, Richard is promoting healthy and active ageing among the older population of Maroondah.

An evidence base for community consultation

As the social planning and development officer at Maroondah, Belinda Lim explained to me that some of the most important social planning work is done at the very start of a project.

To inform a ‘20-minute neighbourhood‘  pilot project in the suburb of Croydon South, Maroondah used the Communities of Interest module to prepare an evidence-base ahead of community consultations about proposed developments in the area.

This evidence base has been used by Council to inform the community partnerships approach to deliver the project and helped to identify some of the sociodemographic challenges and opportunities in the neighbourhood.

Developing a reconciliation action plan

Maroondah City council has also used the Indigenous Communities of Interest module in the development of Council’s Reconciliation Action Plan – a series of initiatives to strengthen relationships with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in the municipality.

A key focus of the Reconciliation Action Plan is ‘facilitating the development of education, employment and business opportunities for indigenous people within the wider and business communities’.

The Indigenous Communities of Interest module was used to establish a current profile of Maroondah’s ATSI community, including characteristics such as employment and qualifications, education levels and age structures.

As all this data is benchmarked to the total ATSI population of Victoria, as well as the total population of both Maroondah and Victoria, Council has been able to focus on initiatives that seek to respond to challenges identified within the consultation and the evidence base.

Accessing Communities of Interest in your area

We’ve written this piece in the hope that other councils can utilise Communities of Interest data as effectively as Maroondah City Council. If you work at council and would like to understand a particular group within your community in more detail, get in touch with us here. We have a standard series of modules we can add to your existing community profile, or ask us about options for custom reports and cross-tabulated data.

Andrew Hedge

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