This thesis provides an overview of the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings. Certain critical aspects are examined in detail, including the collection phase involving questionnaire content and the enumeration process, the testing before and after, the preparation of the data for entry into a computer and the subsequent dissemination of the information. The information for this research was obtained from published material from overseas, from published and unpublished material from the New Zealand Department of Statistics and from interviews with some officers of the Department.
In each aspect, New Zealand is compared and contrasted with other major countries; specifically America, Australia and India. Because of its geographical proximity, any developments in Australia have an immediate impact on New Zealand. The US Bureau of the Census is often a forerunner in the development of census procedures and techniques. The procedures developed in India to cope with their own specific and peculiar problems in census-taking provide an interesting comparison with those of New Zealand. Where pertinent, aspects of censuses in other countries are also compared with those of New Zealand censuses.
New Zealand has adopted many of the procedures used in other countries, but limited resources have hindered or prevented census staff from developing and maintaining some of the procedures used in American and Canadian censuses. In particular, pilot testing of questionnaires has only recently been incorporated into the census procedures, and major post censal evaluations are not conducted. On the other hand, the small size of the New Zealand population has facilitated innovations in such areas as data entry, editing and imputation.
The history of census-taking is covered to gain a perspective on the place of the census in modern society. Alternatives to
censuses were examined; specifically, regular major surveys, administrative records and data banks. It is found that surveys suffer a lower response rate than censuses and that the problems of differential undercoverage of various population groups experienced in censuses are exacerbated in surveys. Administrative records frequently do not contain sufficient detail, varying definitions are employed to categorise the data and the quality of the data cannot always be assured. Data banks provide a rapidly growing source of information, but currently also suffer from a lack of universal definitions, and many data banks do not incorporate strict quality control procedures as a matter of course. Moreover, strict confidentiality laws currently prevent access by census staff to administrative files and data banks.
It could be argued that censuses should continue to be taken because of the need to obtain current, detailed information on all members of any population for planning for present and future needs of that society. A census is the only vehicie for collecting information supplied by all members of the population at a single point in time.
If censuses are to remain credible and acceptable to the individual members of a population, challenges must continue to be addressed such as: the accuracy of estimates must be protected by obtained the highest possible response rate from all sections of the population; confidentiality of data must be guaranteed; the costs of the census operation must be kept within budget, while still maintaining high data quality and publication of data in a time frame that is acceptable to users of census data; universal definitions must be employed to minimise the redundancy between censuses, surveys and administrative lists; results of the census must be attractively presented to the public using a variety of media and accompanying analysis reports must be aimed at increasing the public awareness and of the importance and need for regular, successful censuses.