Census online move vindicated? Two-thirds have already submitted

By The Mandarin

August 22, 2016

Public sector users of Census data stood by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and so, it seems, has the public. The digital take-up of the national survey has already exceeded expectations by millions.

Despite the furore over the Census website being taken offline early in the evening of Census night August 9, there’ll be fewer door-knocks reminding households than ever before.

Duncan Young, national program manager of the Census has revealed that more than six million of Australia’s nine million households have completed and returned forms since Census night. The response rate was expected to be as low as 50% in the first fortnight, with many Australians only using the online form for the first time this Census.

Only a few weeks ago, Young told The Mandarin he estimated online take-up would cap at around 65% of the population (twice the online response rate five years ago), with the remainder preferring to keep filling the national survey as they always had. Australians have already beaten that prediction, and with four more weeks of chasing up, could do so by a substantial rate.

The process of doorknocking to remind remaining households to complete the forms begins today. Even with only 65% online take-up Young predicted the ABS would already save a million household visits. This task will also be easier than ever before:

“We’ve got a more sophisticated way of following up this Census than in the past,” Young said. “Because we have moved to a more digital basis for this Census we are able to identify in real time different areas around the country where response rates might not be as good. We are able to then put additional effort into those areas to support the response.”

Making it easier to make the switch to digital

Young’s team, with the help of the behavioural insights unit at CSIRO, tested 49 different versions of communication with households to get them to make the digital switch. That research appears to have paid off with the results from the first two weeks of responses.

“As statisticians think we need to explain everything to people,” Young told The Mandarin. “But the more information we gave people the less likely they were to understand and make a choice to do so something.”

Clear calls to action, lots of whitespace and business-like envelopes were the trick, the testing found. A detailed defence of the decision to retain names for up to four years, although a major concern in the some quarters, it appears was not needed for the general public.

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