Census 2006 to go online

Census 2006 to go online

Aussies will be able to answer the next census online and submit it over the Internet due to a legislated initiative undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The 2006 National Census will go electronic, speeding up the results and possibly leading to savings for the government agency, depending on the take up.

David Nauenburg, director of population census at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said, “Legislation requires that we [put the census online]. But also there is an expectation amongst respondents that it will be available online.”

The census is undertaken every five years, to collect information relating to each person and household in the country. The 2001 census cost about $240 million and involved 30,000 field workers, the distribution and collection of nine million census forms and the capturing, coding and validation of 700 million responses.

Privacy and security are at the top of mind in the development process of the census. Australians need to be assured that the data is collected and stored over a secure network, according to Mr Nauenburg.

”Obviously it’s a major change to the paper form, and there will be a range of issues to ultimately ensure responses are maintained with a high level of security,” he said.Mr Nauenburg has had to deal with issues such as how to present the survey online so it is easy for respondents to use, secure enough that respondents don’t have to download a form and leave data sitting on their hard-drives, and yet robust enough that the servers at ABS can handle the load.

”If the respondent had to download a form and fill it out, and the data is left sitting on their hard drive, it depends on the security set up of their PCs as to how secure it is, but if it was online, it depends on the servers to allow people to access the form with a reasonable amount of speed,” Mr Nauenburg said.

It remains to be seen how Australians will not only respond, but interact with the online form. As part of the development of the form, Mr Nauenburg said the ABS is conducting tests on “modal bias”, to see if respondents will give the same response on an electronic form as they would on a paper form.

The ABS is also looking closely at the success rate of other countries, such as Singapore and the US, that already offer their citizens an electronic census.

The ABS said it would be able to release the 2006 results earlier than was possible for the last census as a result of the electronic forms, and claimed that the forms would cost half as much to process in terms of clerical effort. However, the ABS said it would need an uptake of 10 per cent to break even.

Although the initiative is still at the drafting stage, Mr Nauenburg said the Web application will probably be developed in house and the budget for the IT component is still unknown.

The online form is the latest technology overhaul to the ABS’s traditional paper-based methods of collecting and compiling data for the national census. In 2001, the ABS introduced scanning technology, and used character recognition tools and autocoding technology to speed up the processing time.

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