Data for the people

BLI Initiative

Today’s post is from the Australian Bureau of Statistics

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), like many other National Statistic Offices, is transforming its systems and processes to change the way we disseminate statistics. This transformation will deliver the first large scale Australian digital Census in 2016, increase efficiency, develop new solutions, and ensure the ABS provides a better evidence base for use by government and the community. We have a variety of users, with, broadly, the following needs:

  • Give me the detailed data, so I can analyse, re-use and combine it with other data, to help me make informed decisions.
  • What is the number, so I can quickly tell others about it?
  • Is there a good summary? I want to learn more about a subject or geographic areas.
  • Tell me an interesting, engaging or interactive story so I learn something new.

Through the transformation and by meeting the differing needs of these groups, the ABS aims to communicate information in a clear and understandable way that effectively supports users’ varying levels of statistical and technical skills, and make information available and accessible on an impartial basis, with supporting metadata and guidance.

One way we connected with our users and disseminated information was through the large-scale campaign undertaken for the 2011 Census. This campaign increased awareness and understanding of the Census to individuals, communities and the nation, and drove behaviour change from passive to active participation. The campaign also heavily targeted certain groups within the community.

Aside from the delivery of detailed Census 2011 data to meet the needs of “Give me the detailed data” and “Is there a good summary?” users, one focus was to meet needs of those with lower statistical literacy, the “Tell me an interesting or engaging story” users. With the release of Run That Town   and Spotlight 2.0 the ABS met that need by developing innovative tools and shifted from static to dynamic and interactive web content.


Run That Town is a strategy game with a twist – it’s a resource management game with a strong emphasis on applying and highlighting 2011 Census data. The game uses real Census data but is not considered a dissemination tool, rather a communication and engagement tool. Run That Town was launched in April 2013 and around 75,000 people have downloaded the game from the App Store to date, maintaining a four out of five star rating via peer review. It has also received formal recognition from a number of prestigious Australian and international awards programmes for its creativity and innovation, as well as the effectiveness of government to engage with citizens.

The ultimate goal of the game is to become the most popular civic leader the selected town has ever seen. At the end of the game you are either “hailed as a hero” or “run out of town”. The game centres on town-building activities, where players complete projects to influence growth, direction and happiness of residents in their chosen postal area. The demographic data for each postal area used in the game is actual data from the 2011 Census. Players can also share their results on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which essentially drives the engagement with the Census. Run that Town also provides an experience to users that is tailored to the individual, incorporating them directly into the game, and helps the public to understand their role and contribution to Australia’s future through the participation in the Census.

Similarly, Spotlight is an online data visualisation that demonstrates how interesting and important Census information can be. Spotlight brings the raw data to life by placing it in contexts that are surprising and entertaining, for example how many kilos of flour you would need to bake a cake for the people that live in your area. This tool allows people to dynamically see and interpret Census Data in a way that relates specifically to them – when they were born, where they live, who they are – to again facilitate the understanding of the value of the Census. Like Run That Town, Spotlight has also been recognised through numerous Australian and international award programmes.

Together, Run That Town and Spotlight demonstrate the ABS’ ability to be innovative and provide experiences to our users that are engaging, dynamic and meaningful, placing us in a strong position in the changing world of dissemination and the transformation of our business. As well as the growing need to deliver content on mobile platforms, users now expect experiences that are engaging. Run that Town and Spotlight 2.0 allow users to easily gain valuable insights through interacting with Census data, with the view that the best way to understand the data is to use it.

These types of platforms are the foundation of a future where technology will play an increasingly critical role in the efficient and effective operations of governments and public services, but also as the next wave of citizen-centric, interactive communication channels. Tools such as Run that Town and Spotlight 2.0 are being considered for the 2016 Census and more broadly as part of a suite of dissemination approaches to ensure ABS meets the needs of all its users.

Useful links

Australian Census homepage

OECD Better Life Index

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  1. Daina Z. Green - 13/01/2015 Reply

    This is a very interesting approach. I am hoping that the ABS is also using a gender lens in its approach to statistics on the well-being of its residents. Nothing in this article mentions using a gender breakdown, but Australia is a leader in pay equity, so perhaps that information was simply overlooked. Other lenses are also needed, especially in such racially and ethnically stratified countries. We must always remember that well-being is a many gendered thing!

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