WASHINGTON, D.C.—Jo Runjajic’s job at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is to improve the country’s next census in 2016. For any country, a better head count would result in better data for the public institutions, private businesses, and researchers that rely on the information. But those improvements won’t happen, she believes, until governments abandon their traditional way of thinking about how to collect data and adapt to today’s digital realities.
“We need to think first about the respondents, rather than what is easiest for us,” said Runjajic, assistant director of census operations at ABS, in a talk here at a recent international conference on census methods sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau. The U.S. agency is hoping to use digital platforms in 2020 to collect the data and also reduce the number of fieldworkers needed to track down those who fail to fill out the census questionnaire the first time around. But Runjajic thinks that governments around the world will need to become more agile and tech-savvy if they hope to lower costs and achieve a more accurate census.
In a follow-up conversation after returning to Canberra, Runjajic explained what she meant. The biggest expense in conducting a census is tracking down those who have ignored the government’s first invitation to fill out a census questionnaire. So increasing the pool of self-responders can save a ton of money.