We all hear about the importance of big data.  Bigger databases with more diverse data from an increasingly complex array of sources.  The reality is that unless you are a large organisation with a lot of customers/supporters and a big budget a lot of this 'big' data is out of reach.


Thankfully we are now in an age where access to data is becoming increasingly easy.  Better and more affordable (if not free) software means organisations have more ability to analyse their own data.  This is not only customer and transactional data, but also website data, social media data and so on.  Let's never forget, this is the best data resource you will ever have.


Externally sourced data is also increasingly available however, often at very detailed and granular levels (such as small local geographies).  In Australia this includes data regarding health, immigration, election polling booth results, transportation, social services, crime and population projections, just to name a few.  But grand master of all is the ABS census data.


The 2016 census made a lot news but for all the wrong reasons.  However despite all the hiccups it is estimated about 96% of households completed the census which overall is a great result and only slightly down on 2011.  Although there will be some minor limitations, this makes for a very comprehensive picture of the Australian population.  Given that so much has changed since 2011 it will tell us a lot of things we do not know.

The key date for census results is the 27th of June 2017.  The ABS gave us a few hints several months ago with their 'typical Australian' profile.  This did not really tell us too much.  From the 27th of June however we will have access to the bulk of the data at granular geographic levels.  This includes data of populations, age profiles, ancestry, income, religion, education and housing.  You will undoubtedly hear all the top levels results in the following days and weeks.  For the results most relevant to your organisation you will probably have to delve a bit deeper.  But it is well worth the investment,

So what value can the census data give us?


The census results will allow drawing clear pictures of communities to almost street by street level.  This is because most data will be available at SA1 geographical level (300-500 people).  Thus for each street or small area we can build a picture of its age profile, wealth, ethnic mix, education levels, home ownership status and so on.  For instance, on the chart we can see the most common ancestry (outside of British orgin) by SA1 in Eastern Melbourne.  There is significant variation.

Of course when we start combining variables this can be very powerful.  This may be for targeting areas for marketing (based on say income and age profile), determining locations for social services (based on economic need) or perhaps even deciding the optimal placement for a physical location such as a store.


This local information can also extrapolated be to regional, state and national levels.  Perhaps you know the profile of who your ideal supporters are and want to find more of them - or you have a successful store and want to find similar locations.  Simple modelling can be used to find where your potential market is most likely located.  Such as finding the LGA with the highest number of home-owning pensioners, or with a little more sophistication, the locations which have the most of your potential customers within a 5km radius.  The possibilities are endless and a bit of creativity can go a long way to expanding your organisation in an efficient and effective way.


A problem a lot of smaller organisations and not-for-profits have is a simply not knowing what the profile of their customers or supporters looks like.  Knowledge could be limited to a few partially completed demographic fields and whatever can be cobbled together from social media.  Although the census does not release data at an individual level, and for good reason, by combining your supporter data with census data you can get a strong view of the leanings of your database.  Geographically locating your customers not only tells you where they are but it might also show for instance, they tend to live in high income areas with a higher than normal proportion of 40-65 year old's who have a least one parent born abroad.  This will give strong insights on who your supporters are, who the best ones are and likewise how to find more of them.


The census data is not the be all and end all of course.  As we saw above it had be merged with your internal data.  It can also be merged with other external data, such as those mentioned earlier (e.g. house prices, social services data, population projections, etc).  These sources not only provide enriched insight but are also regularly updated - so in 2019 the 2016 census results will still be a useful base when supplemented with projections and more recent data from other sources.  The combinations of data are also very useful - for instance areas of high elderly numbers and increasing rates of old age pension support will help guide the placement of, say, aged care services.

In summary, the uses of census data are vast regardless of how much data and insight you may already have.  The data will give access to insight you will get from no other source.  Don't under-estimate the value this data can add to your organisation and achieving your mission.  We are always happy to help.  Regardless, make sure you are in a position to use this data as effectively as possible.  After all, it only comes every five years.