Tonight – August 10, 2021 – is Census night, when the 18th national Census of Population and Housing will happen.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) conducts the Census every five years, providing the most complete snapshot of how Australia is changing economically, socially, and culturally.

The Census counts and surveys every person and household in Australia, gathering comprehensive data that is used to inform decisions for local communities, governments, and businesses about planning and delivering services for all Australians. The Census is more than many tables of numbers – each data point is an Australian and every statistic tells a story.

Complete your Census

This year, more than ever, it is important that each us completes the Census. Our lives and livelihoods have changed dramatically through the multiple crises in the last five years. The Census data can provide valuable insight into how the pandemic and bushfires have changed Australian communities, giving you greater insight into local needs and how to respond.

Your information – completed accurately – is vital to improving community outcomes across every part of our society, from aged care requirements to appropriate housing to supporting migrants to healthcare for Indigenous and First Nations people. In other words, the information you fill out tonight will shape Australia’s future! The Census is a key resource based on which policies are made and funding is granted.

The easiest way to complete the Census is to fill in your own form online using the code which the ABS has given you. Encourage others to do their Census as well, so that we collectively beat the 95% return from 2016.

Detailed guidance on doing the Census is on the ABS website. You have until August 12th to complete it, by why not get it done tonight on Census night.

What’s new in Census 2021

The ABS adjusts the content and procedures of the Census each time, to better capture and represent contemporary issues in the population. There is also a focus on not making questions too intrusive or controversial, so most people would have no issue answering them. Some questions this year may seem more personal than previous years, but as we all know understanding prioritising health and wellbeing, particularly mental wellbeing, is more important now than ever.

Major changes in Census 2021 include:

  • A new question on long-term health conditions: For the first time, we will get data at the small area level on whether people have chronic health issues like asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and mental health conditions. Potentially, this information could be correlated with socio-economic status and geographic areas to pinpoint vulnerable communities. Seer is already doing a lot of this work for our health related NFP users. Combined with the only other health-related question on the Census about need for assistance, this information can provide insight for those who are working in areas of early intervention and support services.
  • A new question about service (past or current) in the Australian Defence Force: Relationships between service and with health and socio-economic data can inform support and intervention services for veterans to improve their post-service outcomes.
  • A ‘non-binary’ option to the sex question: While this is a welcome addition to the traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ options, there is still scope to make the Census more inclusive by considering gender expression rather than simplifying it to biological sex “based on their sex characteristics, such as their chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs”. Additionally, most data will be released as male and female only, although ABS are expected to release some analysis of non-binary responses. Questions for same-sex couples are not specifically asked but data can be derived from answers to the relationship in household question.
  • No question on internet access at home: This question had asked in the past three Censuses but has been dropped from Census 2021.

In addition to these changes, there is an interesting existing question in this year’s Census about the National Archives, asking whether the person consents to having their name and address information securely stored and released in 99 years. We’ll be marking the “Yes” box on this one. Old Censuses are extremely useful for genealogical purposes and tracing family trees, so it is a great way to leave a legacy and let your descendants know who you were in 2021!

COVID-safe Census

The ongoing pandemic has understandably brought some procedural changes to the Census.

With the ABS mailing out codes – and expecting around 75% online return – field officers’ contact with the public will be significantly lower than before. Where there is still need for contact, standard COVID-safe measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing and hand hygiene will be reinforced with Census staff. Lockdowns could potentially cause issues with follow-ups if field officers are unable to access households who have not responded, leading to an undercount in certain areas.

The ABS have drawn up contingencies in case of outbreaks around Census night or during the collection period, and closely monitor advice from each state and territory health department. There are also special procedures to count people in hotel quarantine – these will of course need to be contactless, and likely done online.

All COVID-19 related information regarding The Census can be found on their website.

Impacts of COVID-19 on data

Lockdowns and other restrictions may impact data in ways not seen before. With no overseas travel, most Australians will be counted in the country, quite different to past counts. Any areas under lockdown on Census night are likely to have a far higher proportion of people counted at home on the night than in previous years. Lockdowns could further bump up Census numbers in residential areas and reduce them in holiday areas. The Census is designed so that most people are counted at home, however lockdowns may make local travel less likely, and this may be uneven across the country if some areas are experiencing an outbreak and not others.

Some questions ask about employment and hours worked over the past two weeks, and how the employed person travelled to work on Census day. Anywhere in lockdown with stay-at-home orders will have a higher percentage of people working no hours and people working from home on Census day, so this is likely to produce uneven data across the country for these characteristics. We are generally expecting a large increase in people working from home in this Census (only 4.7% of all employed people did in 2016), particularly in Victoria where it has become more standard even outside lockdowns.

Considering all factors, this is shaping up to be a once-in-a-century Census, so let us all play our parts in make this a resounding success to tell the story of our times for current and future generations of Australians.

Open Data is important

Open Data is a powerful tool for telling the stories of our people and our communities. The Census takes a data snapshot of Australia which can be used to identify vulnerabilities and strengths and track changes over time.

This insight and knowledge gained from Open Data can be used to inform service demand and delivery, develop programs to disrupt disadvantage and to build an evidence base for fundraising and grantseeking.

Census and other open data is, collected by Government and made publicly available, however many communities do not have the skills or resources to transform the data into actionable insights.

This is the problem Seer is solving, we are bridging the data divide between Government and communities by ensuring everyone can access, analyse, share and collaborate using both Open and Private Data on one platform.

Completing your Census is one way you can help shift the needle as communities around Australia seek to harness the power of Open Data to solve complex social problems together.

Reach out to us to learn more about how to use Open Data for understanding needs and funding applications.

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