Census 2013 So What Did You Think?


CensusOur household did it online and I have to say it was a smooth and easy process. The questions we didn’t have to answer were grayed out and we were all done and dusted in no time. Hopefully this means that finally we can hold referendums and vote online in future.

However, to me it was a major missed opportunity to learn more about who Kiwis are, what they do and where. This seemed to be to be simply a modern version of the feudal system where nobility tried to establish how much tax they could claim from their citizens. I love the Census system, always used to use copies of the books the Statistics Department used to put out and have been a keen user of the tables and tool builders on the website over more recent years. This Big Data has a huge impact on where to do business, where to build shops and factories, schools etc and the potential to not require costly double ups of data collection as will remain necessary for many Government organisations.

Here are a few thoughts from me of things that I would have liked to know and would have been easy to include and a few comments on what was included:

Ethnicity. For a country that is so multi-ethnic there were only 8 ethnicities offered and one of them was New Zealand European. That effectively makes it a political question and one that does not allow qualitative or quantitative research. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, most European Caucasians will  select the first option, leaving us with skewed data. How about culture. I know people who will register as Chinese because they look like their ancestors, but were born and raised in New Zealand and in most things they do other than appearance are indistinguishable from any other NZ born person. On the other hand there are people who totally live the culture of their family and do not integrate much with our everyday society.

The question on what languages you can have a conversation in, was easy for people who really don’t speak English, to say they do. This to me is important because we know there are now large numbers of people who will struggle to answer a question like “where is the nearest dairy?” in English.

What is your religion? This to me is very old school. You either belong to a sect or you have no religion. What if you are agnostic, spiritual but don’t belong to a particular church? This would effectively assume that if you have no religion, you do not believe in a higher spirit, God if you will.

I would have liked to know what people’s jobs are. As a futurist, I’m aware that many of today’s roles or job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago and it would be very interesting to be able to identify shifts in trends in employment. Yes, this information is available to IRD, but I want to know these answers and you could argue the same about the table which asks about personal annual income.

The employment questions also didn’t support all options. For example, I am a founder in a couple of start-ups. I am not an employee and I do not draw any money from the companies. I work very long hours in them. But I couldn’t answer the how many hours do you work in your job, because I’m not employed by the companies. These are not family businesses or family farms, although we do have a project creating virtual pets. Because I don’t have a ‘job’ all the options below these questions were grayed out. I was left with the questions of did I apply for a job and if so, how. BTW I also do not get any sort of benefit from the Government.

The only questions on health focused on disabilities that stop you from earning money or require a benefit. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to get more information on conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ADHD, Autism, Cancer etc. where people continue to work or study. Not so much from a single point in time but from a trend perspective. Tie this into geospatial mesh blocks and area units and some very interesting information might have emerged. What about depression and mental health? If we were able to see statistics based on location, what discoveries might that lead to? Perhaps ones that Government doesn’t want to reveal?

They asked how many cars were available to the household, not how old they were, how often they were used, how big the engines were, whether they were NZ new? Yes, again I know this information is collected by other Government agencies, but it is not made available to the public and business in the same way.

Question 32 would have appealed to teachers. In the last 7 days did you work for pay, profit or income for an hour or more. Novopay anyone? How many people worked but haven’t been paid? Many have waited much more than a week, I’ve heard of people who still have pay overdue for months! (No I am not a teacher).

What else would I like to know?

  • Do you have a land-line (that has dial tone)? Because in the event of power outages like earthquakes, they often still work.
  • Do you have a broadband connection? VOIP?
  • How many computers do you have at home that can access the internet?
  • How many mobiles do you have in the household that are connected? How many of those are Smartphones?
  • How many hours a week do you spend: Playing Sport or other outdoor activities? In club or organised activities? Watching TV? Playing computer games? On social media?
  • Do you BYOD to work and use it for work purposes?
  • How often do you buy fast food or eat out?
  • What about savings? What do people do with their money? Are they part of a super scheme like Kiwi Saver? Do they buy stocks (Mighty River Power would like to know)? What was the last big purchase in the last 12 months?
  • How about leisure, do they go away for a holiday? In NZ or overseas? Can they afford one at all? How long for?

There are many more questions that could have been asked like, how easy was it to complete this online? Would you be happy to vote in the next elections online?

So in summing up, its great to finally have a Census again and I’m looking forward to finding out what has changed in New Zealand, particularly as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, but also information like how many NZ born people have left the country permanently, what is the make up of this country today compared to the last Census.

Congratulations on what appeared to be a smooth online operation, but what a missed opportunity to get some more learning. I think there has been so much focus on finally getting the job done, that there was insufficient focus on getting some highly important and valuable new data. The world has changed so much in 5 years. It appears like Novopay, that not much else has when it comes to taking advantage of 21st Century technology.

What do you think?

What’s wrong with calling yourself a New Zealander


I love the Census. Every 5 years we get this massive set of questions about who we are, where we come from, what we do, where we live etc. There is an amazing wealth of information in the Census and this time the Government have made it available for free if you can find what you want without assistance.

I spend a lot of time helping people on the fringe of this and am working on the development of a web application to help people view both their own business data and relevant Census data. Watch for this in a future blog if you are following me.

One of the questions they ask us Kiwis is about our ethnicity. I remember in 2006 when there was a strong movement of people saying to each other that they had had enough of the racial issues between Maori and Pakeha (and this clearly came from both sides of the fence).  A large percentage of Kiwis grew up side by side with Caucasians, Maori and people from many othr places including the Pacific Islands. They grew up as friends and neighbours and if there was discussion of ethnicity it was with interest and pride, not with any tensions or mistrust.

On that theme, 400,000 Kiwis signed their ethnicity, not by selected tick boxes for European Caucasion. New Zealand Maori etc, they signed in a text box called other as New Zealanders.

Whilst this made sense in a way as they tried to make their point, it has also caused some significant problems for organisations who use that information for decision making and the Department of Statistics is looking for ways to get better information in the next Census is 2010.

In the Statistics New Zealand Draft report, prepared for public discussion, they outlined some of the concerns and explained ways that the ethnicity data is used. Here are some examples including some of my own:

  • The health sector uses ethnicity data to target services for groups experiencing inequalities in health. For example, it is commonly known that Maori have a significantly lower life expectancy than Europeans.
  • Asian people, especially new immigrants have unique health needs.
  • Local government agencies use these statistics in planning and service delivery, particularly in regions experiencing significant demographic, social and economic change.
  • Marketers with products targeted and particular groups are able to identify where those markets reside.
  • Education planning needs to take into consideration the demographics that make up local communities to ensure that education services are relevant to the needs of that community. Diverisyt is a key tenet in the NZ education system, but in order to best support it and plan for it, statistics are requred.
  • In the business world, demographics can help with many aspects of business planning. For example a manufacturer of baby bottles found that in one area bottles with blue teets weren’t selling and in another area bottles with yellow teets weren’t selling. After a year or so with lots of stock thrown away or discounted they discovered that it was an ethnicity issue. By rotating the stock to the other areas the problem was solved.
  • Today we have many ethnic communities, which is a relatively new situation, at least in Auckland where most of the population lives. This can be very useful for specialist retailers or service providers such as ethnic supermarkets, restaurants, clothing, music and entertainment providers. This is also of relevance for churches who want a lot of their congregation to be able to walk to their place of worship, immigration consultants, language schools or ESOL and so on.If a business can identify where their target market lives, they can better plan on placement of their business or how to find their new customers.

From a futurist persepctive we can use this information to try to predict what the city and country will look like in the future, where the opportunities and threats lie and how to support the changing community. For many people, New Zealand is seen as a wonderful safe and green place to live and raise a family, but each one brings a piece of their own culture with them, but also bring issues of culture, work training, language, education, commerce and the need to belong to a group of people with similar interests and problems, while their children are assimilating into the local community. New Zealand has changed dramatically over the last few decades and it is essential to the wellbeing of the country that the Census accurately represents statistics that can assist in making sure that everyone is able to enjoy living in this country and able to contribute in their own ways.

The Census provides valuable information about the changing nature of our country. Unfortunately this ‘movement’ towards calling people Kiwis means that it has been very difficult to monitor the change in ethnicity in NZ from the 2001 Census to the 2006 Census, meaning that the data is difficult to use for a 10 year period.

Statistics New Zealand is now asking the country for input as to how to allow people to assert their relationship to the country, while at the same time allowing Statistics to gather important information in order to help the country meet the needs of the large range of ethnicity in our country.

I think the answer has to accomodate both the desire for people to consider themselves bona fide New Zealanders irrespective of their ethnicity, but it is also essential to understand their roots or backgrounds. It shouldn’t be hard to combine the questions in such a way as to support the need for quality of information as well as the need of people, irrespective of their origins, to feel they belong and are important players in our multicultural society today.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)