We nominate the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for their CDATA Online and TableBuilder online services (launched in October 2008 and August 2009, respectively.)
These services allow organisations and individuals to dynamically construct ad-hoc tabulations, graphs and maps from the 2006 Australian Census and export the resulting answer sets for re-use elsewhere. They give users unprecedented access and flexibility to Census data that is a world first amongst National Statistical Offices (NSOs).
CData Online is a free service that allows the public to easily and intuitively develop their own customised tables, maps and graphs of Census data. In the past, an individual would have often only been able to construct this sort of information by either spending significant amounts of time downloading and combining static data sets, or by paying the ABS’ consultancy service to formulate a data table that met their specific requirements. It has become an indispensable tool for government, small business, community service organisations and the education sector – those organisations that make daily use of Census data.
Its popularity is attested to the fact that within 4 months of its release CDATA Online had 4,500 registered users, and 3 months later this had grown to 9,000. These figures do not include the many anonymous guest users that also access the site on a regular basis. CDATA Online received a Highly Commended award at the 2009 Australian eGovernment Awards and was winner of the 2009 ESRI Australia GIS Web Challenge.
One particularly popular feature in CDATA Online and TableBuilder is the ability to create personalised geographic areas. For a community group or small business it means they can define a region of interest (e.g., parish boundaries or a local area from which potential clientele can be drawn) and then create maps and tables of demographic data fitted to that specific set of geographic boundaries.
Tablebuilder, the ABS’ most recently launched online service, is aimed at users with a high level of understanding of Census data concepts. It delivers capabilities to researchers and policy makers that are a level beyond that offered by CDATA Online. It is provided as a charged service to help cover the costs incurred by the ABS in developing and providing support for the product.
TableBuilder lets users access all variables contained in the Census Output Record File including age, education, housing, income, transport, religion, ethnicity, occupation, family composition and more for all ABS geographic areas. It includes a large table function that lets a user easily create tables with up to five million cells of Census data. Small tables are available immediately, while large tables are submitted for background processing, to be collected and downloaded later.
Like all National Statistical Offices, a key obligation for the ABS is to protect the privacy of its Census respondents. Traditionally this has meant an NSO releases Census data at a highly aggregated level or, if they do release it at a lower level, they have to suppress or adjust some parts of it to minimise the risk of individuals or households being identifiable through data cross-referencing and differencing. Such confidentialisation processes are typically time consuming for the statisticians who have to verify the appropriate data privacy levels are in place before the information is published. These processes also tend to reduce the value and usefulness of the data being released, particularly where some of the lower level data has had to be suppressed.
What makes the CDATA Online and TableBuilder services technically innovative is their ability to automatically and dynamically apply confidentialisation controls to ad-hoc queries that are retrieving Census information from unit record (micro data) levels. And to do it in such a way that the general statistical validity of large tabulations is maintained. This is a world first.
CDATA Online and TableBuilder are helping to unlock the value contained in Australia's Census data by providing significantly greater, more flexible public access while still fulfilling the ABS' key privacy obligations.
The ABS is delivering on the key Gov 2.0 objective of making public sector information more accessible.