The Press editorial:
Bungled, botched or butchered. Those are just three of the ways in which the notorious 2018 census has been described since a report into its shortcomings landed on Tuesday. All are accurate.
The overarching narrative is that Statistics New Zealand’s controversial push into online data-collecting was supposed to increase the public response but had the opposite effect. Only 83.3 per cent of the national population responded. That was far short of the target of 94 per cent.
And another article gives us an idea of why:
Stats NZ had planned to use 3000 ground staff to knock on doors and gather responses; 40 per cent of the staff used in 2013. With an online census, less boots on the ground were required.
This reduction was “too aggressive”, the reviewers said. It was further reduced to 2300, a decision apparently made on the basis of a mathematical model without the risk being considered.
Compounding this was a failure to hire staff. There were 1500 field workers needed for following up with people who hadn’t responded to the census, but only 900 were deployed.
So in 2013 there were 7,500 ground staff. In 2018 they reduced it to 2,300 and even worse only 900 over the entire country for followups. Most of the problems they had would have been avoided if they had hired more ground staff.
Greens co-leader James Shaw, who is only the latest of no fewer than six ministers of statistics to have been in charge during the period of the 2018 census, has seemed remarkably blase over the data collection failure, calling the census results “a mixed bag”.
And while the Minister is not responsible for operational details, you do expect them to be governing and seeking reassurances. Radio NZ report:
Mr Bridges told Morning Report Mr Shaw should have done more to ensure the census was on track and should have asked more questions of Stats NZ, instead of letting things spiral out of control.
“He was asleep at the wheel. He expressed blind confidence when concerns were raised. To give you the contrast, Maurice Williamson as statistics minister in 2013 for that census had 18 meetings on the census six months prior. Shaw didn’t have a single one. He had meetings on other things, measurements of our feelings, wellbeing and the like, but not the core business of the census.”
That is damning, if correct.