Editorial: Census questions in a time warp

With many of us having now received the knock on the door, we are once again reminded that census time is here - albeit a couple of years late.

After the 2011 census was delayed following the Christchurch earthquake on February 22, it is a welcome sign of some semblance of normality returning after what has been a disruptive few years for the country.

Given there have been a few years to reorganise, you would think those behind census 2013 would use the time to take a step back and rethink the questions.

Statistics NZ said the unused 2011 Census forms were "very similar" to those used in the 2006 Census. "As no questions have been added or deleted, the overall number and order of questions remains the same."

No new topics or questions were added and only minor changes were made to the form for consistency with past censuses.

Fast forward to 2013, and we're about to fill out census forms that are the same except for the date.

That's a potential 12-year gap with little to no evolution in question gathering in a time when our society is rapidly changing.

While the technological advances are great - organisers are expecting up to 35 per cent of respondents to take the online option, a rise from 7 per cent in 2006 - one can't help but feel this is a missed opportunity.

It makes sense to retain certain questions for quantitative comparisons, but why not push the boat out and gain some information about disaster preparedness, for example.

A question about where respondents "usually live" - created to "help respondents complete their forms in a way that ensures we get good quality census data for Canterbury" - is confusing and probably won't reap the data desired.

It makes you wonder how long this manual way of getting a snapshot of a nation will last.

For the cost and fuss, it could be the catalyst for a new type of data collection method to be investigated.

ONE MORE THING: It is with sadness we note the passing of great Kiwi artist Ralph Hotere, who has died aged 81.

He was described as a "warrior artist" whose provocative work portrayed some of the country's most divisive historical events and he will be remembered for just that.

It is a blessing his art will live on for future generations to appreciate and learn from.

Manawatu Standard