July 14, 2020

2023 Census

Getting it right next time?

The next New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings will be taken in March 2023. Work on the next Census has begun with Statistics New Zealand announcing in June 2020 that information on sexual orientation and gender identity will be included in the 2023 Census.

For the 2023 Census, the New Zealand Government has provided $210 million in funding to Statistics New Zealand. This is a substantial increase on the 2018 Census, which cost approximately $126 million to undertake. The substantial increase in funding will allow Statistics New Zealand to:

  • Lift the number of Census collectors, who will be making contact with people to support them doing the Census
  • Support sustained and ongoing work connecting with communities around New Zealand and helping them increase both their representation in, and their confidence using Census data
  • Implement the recommendations from the July 2019 independent review of the 2018 Census.

A key focus of the Statistics New Zealand Census work programme will need to be on lifting the response rates across New Zealand

The increase in Census funding has occurred for two reasons. The first is to ensure that the 2023 Census delivers high-quality data, something that has been called into question for the 2018 Census. This is because Census data informs a large amount of important work undertaken by central and local government, iwi, community groups, and businesses, and to ensure the best outcomes for New Zealanders the data needs to be of high-quality. The second reason is politics, the current Labour-New Zealand First Government accused the previous National Government of underfunding the 2018 Census.  Therefore, to not substantially increase the Census funding would leave the Government open to accusations of hypocrisy.

Given the large increase in funding for the 2023 Census, what differences from the 2018 Census can we expect to see?

The largest and most important difference is that the 2023 Census should undertake meaningful engagement with special populations, particularly iwi and Pasifika. This approach was recommended in the 2019 external Census review. Establishing these engagements and partnerships will enable implementation of a co-design approach to develop effective, targeted collection strategies for these groups. If undertaken properly this approach has the potential to dramatically increase the participation rates for Māori and Pasifika.

As part of this updated approach, the increased funding will enable Statistics New Zealand to employ a substantial number of Census collectors. It was apparent after the 2018 Census that the substantial reduction in Census collectors had a real impact on the participation rate of people who need support to complete the Census forms.

Further it was recommended that Statistics New Zealand establish an internal design authority that has full responsible for decisions on the design and stewardship of all Statistics New Zealand surveys, including the 2023 Census. The establishment of a design authority would ensure technical reviews and quality assurance on surveys statistical and technical design and models.

Also recommended by the 2019 external Census review was the establishment of an independent body to advise the Government Statistician on matters relating to ethics, privacy and security in relation to the use of alternative and administrative data in surveys. This is key, with Statistics New Zealand planning to continue to build on its use of administrative data to fill in Census data gaps. The establishment of an independent body will go some way to enabling Statistics New Zealand to build public acceptance for this approach in the 2023 Census.

Overall, it seems that the anticipated actions of Statistics New Zealand should ensure that the response rate to the 2023 Census is higher than that for the 2018 Census. These differences in the 2023 Census programme are largely due to the push from in the independent report for Statistics New Zealand. With the key difference being the recommendation to more actively engage with iwi and Pasifika, and for areas of low response rates to be targeted by field staff to ensure full enumeration of these areas.