ON Tuesday March 7, 2006 around 600,000 people are estimated to complete their census form online.
Leading up to this is a four-year project undertaken by Statistics New Zealand (SNZ) and IT services provider Datacom.
General manager of census 2006 Nancy McBeth describes the project as challenging.
“We recognised that people wanted a choice in how they filled out the form - which is compulsory - and we wanted to make it easy to take part,” she says.
As with the paper forms, the online questionnaire is available in both Maori and English with support available through an 0800 helpline.
“Already our help desk has had to deal with more internet-related queries. We have had people phone in asking if they needed a PC to complete the online form, or who didn’t know they needed to be with an ISP.”
Datacom was awarded the contract to develop and integrate the form, worth between $3 million and $3.5 million, and is working with ISPs to ensure network stability. “We know people fill out their forms a day or so around census day, so we aren’t expecting everyone to do it at the same time and overload the network,” says McBeth.
Datacom has also developed the data collection system that integrates the online forms into the overall census.
A final field test is scheduled for next month with 13,000 households taking part, after which the systems and questionnaires will be finalised.
“We’ve chosen a sample of areas to get a mixture of urban and rural, and we’re quite confident we’ll have our systems ready,” says McBeth.
Government statistician Brian Pink says the internet option for the 2006 census will position SNZ to take advantage of technology in the 2011 and following censuses.
SNZ has worked with statistics offices in Australia and Canada that are also undertaking online censuses.
McBeth says data security and usability are key requirements for the system’s design; access to the online forms is by individual security e-pin.
“We’ve been running a lot of security testing and sabotage is a risk, but Datacom has a lot of experience and can help us detect problems,” she says.