As Australia’s official statistical agency, the ABS plays a key role in assisting the government, business and the community by delivering trusted, world-class statistics, and providing information necessary to drive innovation and to meet the evolving information needs of our economy and society1.
In 2018-19, the ABS performed strongly against the majority of the performance measures outlined in the 2018-19 to 2021-22 Corporate Plan. Of the fourteen performance measures, the ABS ‘fully achieved’ nine, ‘substantially achieved’ four and ‘partially achieved’ one. The reasons why 5 measures were not fully achieved include the revised scope of the SBTP to manage risk, increasingly detailed and complex stakeholder demands for data access, and slower than expected progress in addressing emerging statistical capability requirements. Whilst the ABS aims to achieve a high performing work place culture and a diverse workforce representative of Australian society, further improvements are required to meet targets.
In 2018–19, the ABS undertook a diverse range of activities to achieve its purpose, such as:
- Continuing the development of enhanced labour market information, including the production of quarterly and annual labour accounts
- Continuing to enhance the CPI through the adoption of new techniques and methodologies, maximising the use of transaction and web scraped data
- Delivering a significant household survey program, including the conduct of the National Torres Strait Islander Health Survey; the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers; and the Longitudinal Study of Australia’s Children
- Improving the quality and range of environmental information to inform policy through the development of the Loc-I in partnership with other Australian government agencies
- Informing government decisions on the content of the 2021 Census based on the public consultation process
- Preparing for the 2021 Census, including extensive planning and engagement of major suppliers
- Undertaking a broad range of data integration activities as a primary integrating authority for the DIPA
- Increasing the use of online data collection to improve survey response rates
- Providing technical advice and assistance to the newly established National Data Commissioner to support the reform of the national data system
- Delivering new and enhanced statistical collection capabilities and improved and standardised business processes through the SBTP, including the use of these new capabilities
- Implementing a new ABS job design framework to support a new statistical production model.
The ABS’ achievements in 2018-19 have occurred within an increasingly complex operating environment and data landscape. A number of factors which have influenced performance outcomes include (but are not limited to):
- Exponential growth in information and evidence sources outside the ABS
- High stakeholder demand, rising costs and difficulty sustaining high response rates
- Continuing budget constraints on the ABS, now apparent for the past decade
- Highly publicised privacy failures in public and private institutions threatening public support for data use
- New technologies (machine intelligence, cloud-based services) providing new opportunities for data and statistical services
- Customers increasingly considering alternative data sources, often trading timeliness for quality
- Partner entities under greater fiscal pressure, seeking more efficient and innovative statistical and information solutions
- Evolution of state government data sharing legislation.
Priority-specific factors influencing performance
Strategic Priority 1: Providing high quality statistics
The 2018-19 ABS Forward Work Program (FWP) reflects extensive external consultation and consideration of the ABS’ current environmental and financial context. Extensive partner consultation ensured the FWP was relevant as well as financially responsible, confirming the most efficient use of ABS resources on the highest priority work program to meet stakeholders’ needs.
The ABS continues to provide proactive communication and undertake engagement with the ASAC, the Minister’s office, key stakeholders and the media.
Strategic Priority 2: Transforming the ABS for the future
Building staff capability had a dual focus in 2018-19: building key statistical skills to meet the changing demands of the external data environment, as well as ensuring the necessary expertise to deliver transformed operating environments. Staff have been highly engaged in developing the skills required in the future ABS, either in direct response to the transformation agenda or with a view towards the role and work of the ABS in the next 3-5 years.
The scope of SBTP was adjusted in late 2018 to reduce an unacceptable level of statistical and Program risk which became apparent during early experiences with adoption of new processes and technologies. The key focus of 2019 was to increase the number of statistical collection areas using new data acquisition capabilities. This revised approach is consistent with the advice provided by the Gateway Review conducted by the Department of Finance in January 2019.
Strategic Priority 3: Delivering new statistical solutions to maximise the value of public data
All results for this strategic priority were achieved, despite there being a range of challenges in the data integration operating environment. The most significant factor is balancing the need to ensure community trust in the ABS and building social licence, against the growing demand for increased access to ABS data. Achieving this balance will enable stakeholders, and the nation as a whole, to benefit from ABS data activities, capabilities and resources.
Quality assurance of ABS Performance Measures for 2018-19
The measures demonstrate both an internal and external focus on ensuring the ABS achieves its purpose of informing important decisions through quality statistics, partnerships, and innovation.
In 2018-19, an internal audit of the mid-year performance process was undertaken to:
- assess whether the methodology and formula for the collection of data to support the performance measures is appropriate; and
- evaluate the type of evidence to be collected and assess whether it is relevant, reliable and complete.
The audit also included a deep dive on three performance measures. This involved a review and assessment of the methodology used to collect and report information in relation to quality assurance and maintaining supporting evidence.
Overall, evidence sources were assessed as fit for purpose, with methodology and data collation processes adequately documented. Quality control and assurance tasks were consistently undertaken. The audit noted the outcomes of the ABS’ recent efforts to improve its approach to quality control and assurance, contextualising measure results, and working with business areas to produce outcome focused performance narratives.
Targets and measures will be replaced or rephrased in 2019-20 to align with a contemporary suite of agency objectives that draw a clear line of sight to the ABS purpose, and reflect the changes as the organisation moves beyond transformation to the next phase of the ABS’ capability and expertise being used for greater government, business and community benefit across the broader data landscape.