Government Statistician resigns after Census report

Published: Tue 13 Aug 2019 11:15 AM
The Government Statistician and Chief Executive of Stats NZ, Liz MacPherson has resigned following the release of the Report of the Independent Review of New Zealand’s 2018 Census.
“As leader of this organisation, I take full responsibility for the shortfalls identified in the report,” said Ms MacPherson.
“We were too optimistic, placed too much emphasis on the online census, and did not have robust contingency plans in place for when things started to go wrong. When that happened, problems were not escalated to a higher level. We also failed our Treaty partners because we did not convert engagement with Māori into actual census responses.
“Put simply, we didn’t make it easy enough for everyone to take part and that will be a key focus for the next census.
“As the reviewers say, we got some things wrong at a time of great change during the switch to a more digitally-focused data collection approach. I accept the findings. We let ourselves and New Zealand down.
“But, importantly, the independent reviewers endorse Stats NZ’s innovative use of administrative data*. I am confident that the 2018 Census dataset will meet key uses of the census, including the calculation of electorate seat numbers and boundaries, and population projections that feed into DHB funding.”
State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said he supports Ms MacPherson’s decision to resign. She has stood up and been accountable in owning the report’s findings.
“Ms MacPherson has done the right thing. She has taken full responsibility for what went wrong and she is doing an excellent job of fixing it. That is what I expect of public service chief executives.”
Mr Hughes said he had asked her to stay on as Government Statistician until Christmas.
“I want her to stay on because she is the best person to finish the remediation work,” said Mr Hughes.
The independent reviewers – Murray Jack is a leading New Zealand management consultant and Connie Graziadei a Canadian census expert – were asked to consider the design, implementation, and operation of the 2018 Census, with a focus on participation in, and the coverage of, the census.
Ms MacPherson said, “Many of the shortfalls identified by the independent reviewers had already been identified by our own internal review processes. Steps have already been taken to address much of what went wrong, and to set out the steps to make sure a 2023 Census is a success.
“As the reviewers point out, the basic model we used for the 2018 Census was sound. Rather, it was the implementation that fell short.”
On 23 September Stats NZ will be releasing the first official 2018 Census results.
“The fact that we can do this is down to the skill, innovation, commitment and sheer hard work of Stats NZ people. I am tremendously grateful to everyone involved and look forward to the release of this important data that I know our customers have been waiting on,” said Ms MacPherson.
The State Services Commission will start the recruitment process for a new Government Statistician in the coming weeks.
*Administrative data is information already collected and held which can supplement information collected on census forms. Administrative data is used by government statistical agencies globally, and has been increasingly used by Stats NZ since 2012.
Read the Report of the Independent Review of New Zealand’s 2018 Census.
[Scoop copy of report: independentreviewreport.pdf]

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