The Government Statistician and Chief Executive of Stats NZ, Liz MacPherson has resigned following the release of the Report of the Independent Review of New Zealand’s 2018 Census.
“As leader of this organisation, I take full responsibility for the shortfalls identified in the report,” said Ms MacPherson.
“We were too optimistic, placed too much emphasis on the online census, and did not have robust contingency plans in place for when things started to go wrong. When that happened, problems were not escalated to a higher level. We also failed our Treaty partners because we did not convert engagement with Māori into actual census responses.
“Put simply, we didn’t make it easy enough for everyone to take part and that will be a key focus for the next census.
“As the reviewers say, we got some things wrong at a time of great change during the switch to a more digitally-focused data collection approach. I accept the findings. We let ourselves and New Zealand down.
Kudos to the Government Statistician for taking accountability for this. It is the right thing to do.
To do so, respondents must be provided with the tools they need to participate. In cases where mail service is not available, a census worker visits the household and leaves the material that allows respondents to participate in the census (list-leave). As such, paper is an important component; however, its value was underestimated. There was too much focus placed on the digital-first approach due to factors described above. This is evidenced by the decisions to remove paper and then contact from list-leave operations. This made it difficult for a significant portion of the targeted sub-population groups and special dwellings to complete the census.
Also a key finding:
Leadership at the programme level lacked strategic direction and effective programme management. The programme struggled with project integration throughout the census life-cycle. There was a strong operational focus with optimism bias in reporting to external reviews and within the census governance. We could not find evidence of escalation of key decisions beyond the programme team to the relevant governance boards, including the ELT.
Hopefully the next census will go much better.