In last week’s federal budget, the Australian government announced a major investment in the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This means that, contrary to media speculation earlier this year, the 2016 census will go ahead as planned.
It’s great news for Australia. As the most comprehensive snapshot of the country and its people, the insights gained from the full census are invaluable. This is particularly true for local area data. While sample surveys can be a useful tool for finding more general insights at the national and state level, when it comes to small area data – the kind used every day by local governments, businesses and researchers across the country – there’s really no substitute for the full census.
Even more importantly, this much needed support from the federal government also means that the ABS can begin upgrading its ageing computer systems and infrastructure – including some critical components that are over 30 years old – and invest in new ways of collecting, processing, analysing and disseminating Australia’s official statistics.
This, too, is a big win for the country. It is vitally important that we have the right tools in place to unlock the value and insights that these statistics hold. The real measure of success for Australia’s official statistics is not just the volume of data collected and released, but how easy it is for government departments, businesses and citizens to access and explore that data, and derive value from it, through evidence-based decision making and innovation.
Simply releasing data is not the answer: it needs to be useful and useable. That means investing in the right tools – tools that make it easy for anyone to explore the data, ask their own questions, and visualise and share the resulting insights.