Tuesday, 5 March 2013


so i've filled out my census forms dutifully, and very happy that i was able to do them online.  makes life that much easier.  i didn't have any problems with any of the questions personally, in terms of my own ability to answer nor objections to answering them, though i know that they haven't been designed so well for other people who don't fit into categories so easily.

i'm thinking that maybe the census people should have some kind of online discussion forum on their website, say 18 months before the census, where people can write in about their issues with particular questions, the general designs of the forms or any other issues around the census.  then other people can have a discussion about that and the census people can have a think about the wording/design of the form based on the feedback they get.

i know that online discussion forums privilege a certain type of person: ie those who are literate in the english language, have access to a computer & internet connection, and the time to write out the things that bother them.  but still, some kind of public feedback mechanism is better than absolutely no feedback mechanism and no place to have these discussions where the people with decision-making power will actually be paying attention.

how glad am i that we didn't have to have the whole "why-do-i-have-to-put-my-race" and it's first cousin the "why-can't-we-all-just-be-new-zealanders" discussions this census.  possibly because mr brownlee and mr quax were otherwise occupied this year & no-one else could be bothered to lead the charge?  or because people are beginning to accept that there is such a thing as discrimination/disadvantage that is a result of being the "wrong" skin colour? and one way to collect this information is by accurately answering the ethnicity question (or as accurately as possible given that many people have more than 1 ethnicity).

i don't care what the reason is, i'm just glad that it's no longer a major issue.  there was a discussion around the religion question over at the standard.  to which i had this response, which i'll leave you to read in context over there. also, if you don't have time to go through all the comments, i'd recommend this one.

another issue though: i had a call from someone at the local mosque, and it turned out there were a whole bunch of people there tonight for evening prayers who hadn't received a form and/or didn't know anything about the census.  which leads me to wonder about the process to deal with particular communities who might not watch much television, don't listen to the radio or buy local newspapers.  many of them might have english as a second language, but it's clear that they didn't know what the census was about or why it was important.

it makes me wonder about budget cuts to the dept of statistics - could it be that some of the "backroom bureaucrats" who might usually have carried out this function weren't hired this year?  or is it that the DoS just didn't think to do community outreach to people who haven't grown up here or who don't interact with the media?  or that the community outreach they have done just isn't successful?

i know that our muslim association president made many announcements at the mosque about the census, but somehow the message didn't get through.  maybe because we're dealing with some people who don't understand what "census" means, because they've never had to do one in their country of origin or in the refugee camps where they may have spent well over a decade.  and it's not a word that would come up in the conversations they normally have.

again, i'm not sure about the source of the problem, but it's certainly one that needs to be looked at & attended to.  i rang the 0800 number and got some good advice on how to deal with the issue, but just find myself annoyed that this happened and am wondering about other communities that don't have regular communal gatherings like ours.  how many of their people will miss out?