Census data tool a ‘tragedy’ and yet ‘another terrible product’

The 2016 Australian Census has been anything but a smooth experience, for both the Australian Government and the end users of the data alike.

Following the heavily publicised hacking scandal in August, public end users of census data are now complaining that the Census data and tools provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) are hard to use and that they were misled by the data release schedule.

The official date for release of Census data was 27 June 2017, however on that date only summaries of the data were made available. Looking further into the details on the ABS website, it became apparent that the TableBuilder for extracting detailed data would be made available at a later date, on 4 July.

Despite the delay and the Census’ $470 million budget, the ABS has failed to deliver a tool that could deliver usable data to end users. Since the release of TableBuilder on 4 July, Twitter has been ablaze with complaints about how hard the government funded tool is to use.

Some users have described it as a tragedy:


Others lauded it as yet another terrible product:

Those wishing to create maps could not load data and complained of the delay in the release:

While others listed some important key findings (depicted):

A ‘staged’ release schedule

The public seem to have been misled by the release schedule. The official 27 June release was little more than a fanfare of the Government’s key findings with the unavailability of the data hidden behind a wall of repetitive press releases.

The availability of the troublesome TableBuilder tool on 4 July was then met with heavy criticism. And today (12 July), the release of pre-compiled DataPacks for all geographies, including time series data, will be accessed by the data community with caution.

There are a total of four DataPacks now available for download from the ABS:

  • General Community
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People
  • Time Series
  • Place of Enumeration

Unsurprisingly, there are further data packs yet to be released and with no specific date assigned:

  • Working Population (additional, available late 2017).
  • Estimated Resident Population

Arek Drozder is a private GIS professional, the creator of the open data collaboration platform Mapdeck and the curator of the All Things Spatial blog. He has been using census data to create maps and watching the releases closely.

Drozder claims that the “data release schedule was staged.”

He also said that the TableBuilder made it “too hard to ‘scrape’ data” and that “using it is less than intuitive and due to the myriad of data columns available (I believe in excess of 8,000).”

“It is very time consuming to extract more than just a handful of data items,” he said.

Despite this, Drozder has been able to use the Census data to create some pretty cool maps, including the one below.

Have you had troubles with Census data? Or did you find it easy to use? We’d like to know. Please get in touch or leave a comment after article…

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