Was the Census really a success?

HAVE you given up on this year's Census?

It may not have gone completely to the dogs despite a plethora of problems.

University of the Sunshine Coast senior lecturer of social science and statistics expert Doctor Peter Innes said the 93% completion rate announced by the Census team was still an extremely impressive figure.

He said survey participation above 90% provided a great level of reliability, provided that is, that this year's Census didn't miss out one particular demographic unable to or unwilling to fill out the survey.

"Typical response rates (to surveys) can be very low," Dr Innes said.

"In research terms, it's (the Census participation rate) excellent. Anywhere over 90% heading towards 95% of a population ... that's always going to give you fantastic indicators."

But Dr Innes prefaced his comments with a salient point.

If the technical issues and controversy over data being collected had driven a specific group away from completing the survey, the data produced would be skewed.

"If it's (non-participation) systematic (rather than random) it's a problem because it represents a bias," Dr Innes said.

"If non-responses are random it's not going to be a problem, the data indicators will still be okay (as any bias would be washed out)."

He was surprised at the rate of completion, recalling a week post-Census only about 50% of his class of 150 students had completed the survey.

Dr Innes wasn't sure whether the problems that affected the Census would impact on the actual responses given, but said he believed the population acknowledged and grasped how important Census participation was.

"We're (Australia) up there in terms of really strong participation for whatever reason (either avoiding fines or a sense of responsibility)," he said.

His guess was a fair, random distribution of people would be among the non-participants, but added it was probably too early to tell how reliable the data was until it had been assessed.

"If they lose a type of person (from the data) well that's going to be a problem," he said.

The Census return date wraps up tomorrow although hard copies would still be accepted through return mail.

Fifty percent of respondents to a survey on the Daily's website so far said they hadn't filled out the survey and didn't intend to.


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