Canterbury census workers will navigate blocked streets and track down people living in garages to collect information about the region for the first time since the earthquakes.
The census, which normally takes place every five years, will be held next month for the first time since 2006.
It was meant to take place in 2011 but was postponed after that year's February 22 quake.
Government agencies have been forced to allocate funding based on the 2006 data, despite significant population and demographic changes, particularly in Canterbury.
Canterbury census community engagement manager Nikki Hawkey said her role was the first of its kind in New Zealand, reflecting the region's importance in this year's census.
"It's so vital that the community engages with the census because we desperately need this data."
She said census officials had been working in Canterbury since last October, meeting "anyone who will give us an audience" to encourage people to participate.
"We know that there are issues with people living in garages and overcrowding," she said. "There's kind of a perception that progress is happening and things are getting better, but you scratch that surface and there are some serious social issues going on."
Hawkey said census team members were working with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority so they knew which red-zoned properties were still occupied, while infrastructure officials were providing information on road closures so they knew the best way to reach residents.
Red-zone residents had been employed as census collectors, while others would receive training to help deal with people in the hardest-hit areas. "Some people get quite emotional because they're not living where they want to be living and they might not go back there again, so reliving these things again brings it all back up," Hawkey said.
COUNT MAY BE TAKEN ONLY ONCE A DECADE
There appears to be no reason why New Zealand should not move to a 10-year census, Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson says.
The Government has come under fire for discussing a possible change from a five-year census.
Christchurch opponents have said the change could fail to account for the city's recovery, with the population expected to rise as the rebuild gathers pace.
Williamson said officials were looking at the benefits and disadvantages of changing to a 10-year census.
One factor was the cost savings of a change, while officials also had to consider that information normally collected during the census was now available through other means.
"We're capturing information in a way we never have before, so in the modern era it may be that the old way of capturing census data is outdated," he said.
Williamson said other countries managed to function with a 10-year census, while there could be other ways of estimating population changes.
"I don't know whether we need to keep collecting the microscopic data that we do as often as we do."
He had "no fixed answers" on whether moving to a 10-year census was the right idea, but it merited further investigation.
"The question that I keep coming back to in my mind is, how can many, many advanced countries manage to do theirs every 10 years if we can't?" he said.
There was no timeline for making a final decision on a change, but officials would keep working on the issue over the next year.
Williamson said preparation for next month's census was going "exceedingly well", with particular interest in how many people would complete the census online for the first time.
"I'm like an expectant father for the first time. This is one of the biggest and most exciting things we've done."
The data from Canterbury would provide some "very interesting" information on post-earthquake issues facing the region, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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