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Census panel to advise Stats NZ

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 04 September 2018, 10:51 am

The 2018 Census was switched off in June but it is likely to be several months before the results are made public. A lower turn-out and the appointment of an independent panel to advise on data quality have meant that Stats NZ requires more time to analyse the results.

The extended time frame was referenced in June, when Government Statistician Liz MacPherson noted in a release that online participation for the 2018 Census was up (82% of respondents). Unfortunately, overall participation was down, with full or partial information from 90% of individuals, compared with 94.5% in the 2013 census.

"Because individual responses are lower than we had planned, we need more time than we'd originally anticipated to draw on other information sources and new methods to achieve the highest dataset," she explained.

A panel of eight experts (see list below) has now been appointed and they met for the first-time last week. Their remit is to "provide independent advice to the Government Statistician about whether the methodologies used to produce information from the 2018 Census of Population and Dwellings are based upon sound research and a strong evidence base."

The panel will meet regularly until April 2019, when it will produce an independent report and it will also provide input into an independent review of the 2018 Census. That review is to find out what could have been better, says MacPherson.

"We want to know what worked well and what did not work well, and why. We need to be clear about what we should have done better and what were the drivers and behaviours of the people who simply did not fill out their census forms, despite our extensive efforts."

In an earlier press release, Stats NZ outlined the steps it took to ensure people filled out the 2018 Census. These included hand-delivering 300,000 paper packs and conducting nearly one million visits, posting 2.6 million access code letters and spending $2 million in advertising.

Looking from the outside, it seems to me that Stats NZ overestimated the rate of digital adoption among New Zealanders and rolled out a campaign that was online-first. There were a number of articles in the media in the run-up to the census with people complaining they didn't know how to access forms. A lower turn-out means they now have to supplement the findings with other data, and in order to ensure the veracity of the results they need the backing of an expert panel. It matters that they get the best results because Census results help determine what communities receive in terms of public spending such as health and education spending.

The independent panel's report and the review into how the 2018 Census was conducted will make for interesting reading, and should be applicable to the current discussion now underway about online voting in the 2019 local government election.

Census external quality panel

Richard Bedford, Emeritus Professor, recently retired Professor of Population Geography, Auckland University of Technology and University of Waikato (Chair and spokesperson)

Alison Reid, local government senior researcher, Auckland Council

Barry Milne, expert data user, COMPASS Research Centre, University of Auckland

Donna Cormack, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland; Senior Research Fellow, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington; and Te Mana Raraunga (Māori Data Sovereignty Network)

Ian Cope, international census expert, ex-Office of National Statistics (ONS), United Kingdom

Len Cook, former New Zealand Government Statistician and former National Statistician of the United Kingdom

Tahu Kukutai, Professor of Demography, National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, University of Waikato; and Te Mana Raraunga

Thomas Lumley, Professor of Biostatistics, University of Auckland.



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