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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Time to be counted (for the census)


It’s that time again: New Zealand is about to conduct its five-yearly census. For a policy and political science geek like me, it’s better than Christmas. The ad above is the latest one promoting the census, which will be very different this year. I think that’s interesting, too.

This year, as the ad above says, no one will be going door to door to drop off census forms. Instead, starting this week, we’ll receive an access code in the mail so we can fill out our forms online. The first year we completed the forms online was 2013, though we could have in the pervious one, 2006. In those years, someone dropped off the census forms, then came back to collect them—except for 2013 because they knew we’d completed the census online, so they didn’t send anyone. I still have those forms filed away somewhere. Of course.

Not everyone can or wants to fill out the forms online, and they can request a paper form. But most of us won’t get them, and I think that’s a great thing. It’ll cut costs, since they won’t need to hire armies of temporary workers to deliver the forms and collect them later. It will also make the collection of data much faster. All of that is good.

There’s also one other difference this year. In the past, they counted everyone in New Zealand on Census Night, both those who live here and those here temporarily, like tourists and even those docked here on a cruise ship, among others. This year, we can fill-out the forms “on or before March 6”; I don’t think that was the case in 2013, but I don’t remember.

However, there’s one continuing problem with the census: It STILL isn’t counting LGBT+ people as a category, nor is it collecting data on gender diversity. New Zealand’s Rainbow communities have been pushing to be counted for many, many years, but we’ve been ignored so far. The census folks tested some questions, but they say there were questions about “data integrity” because of some supposed confusion over definitions.

This is a weasel-words excuse. Other government entities have had no trouble working out how to word these questions, and even Statistics NZ has gotten some of the data through other questionnaires. But this year we STILL won’t know the size of New Zealand’s Rainbow communities nor the variation in gender identity.

All of this matters because government policies and decisions about resources are determined in part by the results of the census. This tells governments where more parks are needed, whether specific communities are receiving services they need or not, an so much more. By not counting the Rainbow communities, it’s impossible to make informed policy decisions, nor, most importantly, to determine where there are gaps and problems.

Still, the census provides a snapshot of New Zealand “on or before March 6”, and that’s valuable for a whole lot of reasons, even though it’s incomplete. Among the questions that may be answered: Will this be the year that New Zealand becomes majority non-religious? (I doubt it). Will there be an increase in the number of people fluent in Te Reo Māori? (I’m sure there will be). How many people have fax machines in their homes? (I’m sure the number has plummeted, probably to insignificance).

I look forward to seeing the results, whatever they are.

• • • • •

There were two other commercials that aired on NZ television. This was the first one:



There was a second commercial, that at one point ran concurrently with the first, then replaced it. It seemed to me it aired a lot more than the first one, but maybe I noticed it more because the young dad looked too young to be a dad, probably because I’m so old. In any case, this is the second ad:



Those are the ads so far. I think that there will be at least one more ad urging people to hurry up and answer. If so, I’ll share that, too, and my experience in filling out this year’s census. I can’t wait!

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