CSO says lifestyle changes are limiting its ability to collect data

Statistics office moves to improve public engagement with household surveys

CSO senior statistician Brian Ring: ‘People don’t realise how much data comes from the household surveys.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

CSO senior statistician Brian Ring: ‘People don’t realise how much data comes from the household surveys.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Central Statistics Office has embarked on a campaign to encourage people to respond to its surveys, following fears that lifestyle changes are making it more difficult to collect information.

The CSO’s 100 interviewers visit 30,000 homes each quarter, talking to people and gathering information that captures a detailed picture about Ireland’s economic and social life.

“People don’t realise how much data comes from the household surveys,” says the CSO’s senior statistician, Brian Ring: “Crime, education, budgeting, cross-Border shopping, income, they really do relate to people’s lives.”

Getting the public to engage with the surveys is become more difficult, not just in Ireland but across Europe as more people live in apartments and lead busier lives, he says.

Such gaps matter, because the houses chosen for the surveys come from a representative sample, and so an unanswered door will not result in the CSO trying neighbours, but, rather, merely limits the data collected.

A new campaign launched by the CSO, Because You Told Us, aims to raise awareness about the vital role the public play in providing the data and to encourage people to take part in them.

“When someone knocks at your door you might think, ‘Well, it’s only my house, I’m only one person, or ‘There’s only two or three of us’, but the reality for us is that knocking on the door for our interviews is what drives the statistics.

CSO household survey Staff with Padraig Dalton, CSO director general, and Richard McMahon, assistant director general, at the launch of the CSO Household Survey Marketing Campaign.
CSO household survey Staff with Padraig Dalton, CSO director general, and Richard McMahon, assistant director general, at the launch of the CSO Household Survey Marketing Campaign.

“If we don’t capture data at the doors we will be struggling hugely to produce good-quality statistics,” says Ring, adding that such data plays a key role in laying the ground for decisions by the State.

Confidentiality assured

All the information is collected under absolute confidentiality: “We are legally prohibited from sharing data with anyone else such as Government agencies or departments.” Names collected at the doorstep are deleted later.

“The trust in us as an organisation is sacrosanct to us in terms of having and maintaining that trust [with the public],” he says, “We don’t care to whom the data belongs.

“We need to have a record of the person’s gender. Also nationality, marital status, employment status etc . . . We don’t need identifiers like knowing your name – that is not important to us,” he goes on.

Nor will people be endlessly faced with surveys if they agree to one, since the CSO says it is “keenly aware of the time it can take”, and the level of co-operation required.

“Long after many of us are gone, decisions around schools and roads, all of those things, can be much longer-term decisions. They will come from the data we capture. The statistics we capture really count.”