September 12, 2019

Making the best use of the 2018 Census

Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom – Cliff Stoll.

We are living in an era of significant data overload, with researchers and policy advisors having access to ever increasing amounts of data to inform their decision making. Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) is, and has always been a strong advocate that data alone cannot be effectively used to inform decision-making.  The story behind the numbers is just as important.

The highly anticipated and controversial release of the population data from the 2018 Census on 23 September 2019, is an excellent example of a significant data overload.  We want to stress that effective data dissemination will be one of the most critical tasks concerning the Census results. The ultimate goal is to disseminate Census data to tell the stories behind the data in ways that will be useful for informed decision making.


How do you disseminate data into information and into knowledge?

By telling the story behind the data. For example, a company is looking at opening a factory in Marton but are not sure if they will be able to attract people to work at the factory.

To inform their investment decision they could use the 2018 Census data and find the number of people unemployed or not in the labour force in Marton and the surrounding area.  They can then use the Census data to look at the age and sex breakdowns for this unemployed and not in the labour force population.   From this data, they might conclude that there is enough people in Marton to fill the jobs in the factory or they need to advertise wider to attract workers in. This strictly data approach has significant constraints and will not provide the information for informed decision making.    

Further dissemination of the data is needed, such as matching the skills required to work in the proposed factory with the people that might be available. This will enable the factory to determine if the appropriate people with the appropriate skills will be available. If not, further analysis will be needed to investigate if the skills could be developed and or brought in from outside Marton. If so, further investigations will be needed to determine if the right level of support would be available to assist people back into employment and maintain that employment. This information could be further supported by information from the local WINZ office. Also, if people are coming from outside Marton, is public or private transport available to get to the factory. Having all this additional information and insight will collectively tell an informed story behind the data that will provide a sufficient level of insight to make informed decisions on the availability of the appropriate workforce for the factory.

BERL strongly believes that only providing tables of data will not support informed decision making. We work closely with our clients, to help them develop and understand the story behind the data, and therefore transforming data into information and ultimately knowledge.