Making census test count

Hamilton residents are being asked to help make sure updated census methodology works by participating in the census test, Stats NZ said today.

The test is being run to see how changes made to the collection model used in the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings in 2018 work in a similar environment to a real census and to capture any issues that come up while there is still time to make changes.

“We know we let a lot of people down in 2018,” Census General Manager Kathy Connolly said.

“Now, we’re asking Hamiltonians to help to us make sure we do better for everyone in 2023.”

Households that are in scope for the test will have received postcards letting them know the test is coming and many will have already received packs with forms and instructions.

Anyone who has received a postcard but not a pack can contact 0800 CENSUS.

“The best way people can help us test the changes and find what needs fixing is to talk with our census collectors, fill in their forms and return them,” Connolly said.

The test is being run in Hamilton East and West.

The official census test day is 9 March 2021.


As a result of the COVID-19 alert level change of 27 February, households yet to receive their census test forms that would have received a face-to-face visit will now have forms delivered to their letterboxes. This is to ensure the safety and comfort of both the people in these households and Stats NZ staff.

Anyone wanting assistance with completing their forms can call the census test contact centre on 0800 CENSUS (0800 236 787).

What has changed?

A number of changes have been made to the model since 2018, including increasing:

  • the number of staff who’ll be visiting participants in the lead up to and after the test day
  • the level of assistance collectors can provide
  • the numbers of paper forms provided.

The staff visiting households and distributing and collecting forms will be primarily recruited from within the communities they’ll be working in to use their local knowledge and existing community presence – another change from the 2018 model.

Many of these changes are focused on increasing response rates in Māori communities, Pacific communities, and in other communities that had low collection rates in 2018.

How does it work?

A census test works almost exactly like a normal census for households in scope.

The two key differences are:

  1. participating in a census test is voluntary, whereas it’s a legal requirement to participate in the census
  2. because it’s voluntary, we don’t always follow up with people who don’t complete their forms.

This means that, just like in a census year, people who live in the areas being tested will see census staff out and about or receive letters with instructions on how to complete their forms.

In some areas, census staff will deliver forms to people’s letterboxes. In other areas, they’ll come up to the door and talk to members of the household about the census test. If staff come to your door, they will leave information with you – including the census test forms. You may be given an envelope to post back your forms, or the staff member you speak to may say they’ll come back after Test Day to collect the forms from you. In some areas, our staff will be able to help you fill out your forms.

Forms will be available in either English only or in both English and te reo Māori. Replacement forms can be requested if people don’t receive their preferred option.

Ideally, forms should be completed on Test Day, which is 9 March 2021. Anyone who won’t be able to complete their forms on that day can complete them either early or late as long as they make sure they answer them as if it was 9 March.

Forms can be completed on paper or online. All responses provided are completely confidential regardless of which method is used.

Anyone who has questions or needs help can speak to a census staff member in their area or contact Stats NZ on 0800 CENSUS.

Why do we test?

“Testing is an important part of our preparation for the 2023 Census,” Connolly said.

“We’ve learned from the experiences of 2018 and have made changes to our model as a result. These changes are based on advice we received from external reviews and our own analysis of what worked and what didn’t. Now, we need to test them to make sure they work.”

The test’s core objectives are to understand:

  • how changes to the collection model affect people’s experiences and how they participate
  • how people interact and participate when staff are able to provide assistance with filling in test forms
  • the accuracy of predictions around timings and costs associated with the updated model.

The results of the test will be used to refine the census collection model.

Participation in the test is voluntary, but the more people who participate, the better the information gathered about how well the new collection model works.

/Stats NZ Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.