Tra­di­tional cen­sus could soon be thing of past

The Irish Times - - Front Page - JACK HOR­GAN-JONES

Next year could see the last tra­di­tional cen­sus in­volv­ing thou­sands of enu­mer­a­tors trav­el­ling the coun­try to hand-de­liver and col­lect ques­tion­naires, un­der op­tions be­ing con­sid­ered by the Cen­tral Statis­tics Of­fice (CSO).

A CSO pa­per on the fu­ture of the cen­sus shows that while some form of sur­vey may con­tinue, on­line data col­lec­tion, as well as the use of mas­sive data­bases of pub­lic in­for­ma­tion, are be­ing con­sid­ered as the State ap­proaches the cen­te­nary of the first cen­sus taken after In­de­pen­dence.

A spokes­woman for the CSO con­firmed it is “cur­rently ex­plor­ing sev­eral op­tions for the con­duct of cen­suses post-2021 and this in­cludes the po­ten­tial of run­ning on­line cen­sus and also in­te­grat­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive records into the cen­sus process”.

‘Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances’

Ac­cord­ing to the work­ing pa­per, re­leased un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, “cen­sus-tak­ing across the world has gone through enor­mous change as method­olog­i­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances are in­creas­ingly adopted by cen­sus-tak­ing coun­tries world­wide and new data sources be­come avail­able.”

In time, ac­cord­ing to the work­ing pa­per, some mod­els based on us­ing pub­lic data sources may “ul­ti­mately per­haps re­place the need for com­pre­hen­sive pri­mary data col­lec­tion from ev­ery house­hold in the State”.

While the next sched­uled cen­sus, in 2021, will be con­ducted in the usual way, the pa­per as­sesses sev­eral op­tions for 2026, which will be 100 years since the first cen­sus in the State.

These in­clude a “multi-mode field op­er­a­tion”, which could in­clude an on­line op­tion to col­lect data “in ad­di­tion to hand de­liv­ery and hand col­lec­tion for those who choose not to re­spond elec­tron­i­cally”.

‘Data sources’

An “ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­sus” is also un­der con­sid­er­a­tion, which “re­lies on har­vest­ing ex­ist­ing data sources rather than pri­mary data col­lec­tion from ev­ery house­hold”.

Such an ap­proach would build on work al­ready be­ing done by the CSO’s ad­min­is­tra­tive data cen­tre. Ac­cord­ing to the pa­per, the cen­tre has been de­vel­op­ing a “per­sonal ac­tiv­ity reg­is­ter”, which is com­piled from a range of ad­min­is­tra­tive files, in­clud­ing P35 forms, driver li­cences and child ben­e­fit forms.

This could be used along­side other State data­bases such as the PPSN (per­sonal pub­lic ser­vice num­ber), Eir­code and unique busi­ness iden­ti­fier num­bers dur­ing the cen­sus process.

“CSO is mind­ful of the strong con­nec­tion peo­ple have with the tra­di­tional cen­sus, and a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion will be held be­fore de­ci­sions about the fu­ture di­rec­tion of the cen­sus are taken,” the spokes­woman said.

A fam­ily fills out a cen­sus form in 2011. The cen­sus may be re­placed by data col­lec­tion

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