Statutory Data and Statistics

Government agencies collect a lot of useful information about whānau and communities. Some of it is private but much of the data is available on request and it can be valuable to understand change in communities.

For example, information that statutory agencies such as District Health Boards, Police, Ministry of Education, WINZ, Child Youth & Family, Ministry of Social Development, Housing New Zealand and ACC collect can help you understand what is going on, who it affects and how that has changed over time.

Publicly available data sets are available here. The site describes the available data and links to the data set. There are forums you can join. Datasets are held on the responsible agency’s own website but they may also be held in data repositories, such as Statistics NZ.

Individuals and community organisations can ask at data.govt.nz for other datasets, some of which may cost. The site asks the agency responsible and monitors its responsiveness.

Organisations can also ask for specific data for their community. They may have to pay.

Advantages

  • The data has legitimacy and credibility.
  • There is a lot of information available and it is for public use.
  • Most agencies have collected information for a long time so comparisons can be made over time.
  • The data is often from communities across the whole country so you can make comparisons between places.
  • Data is usually digital and easy to analyse and present in different ways, such as tables and charts.
  • Government departments are usually willing to share their information. They appreciate that communities want to understand their situation better and can put the data to good use.
  • Combining data from several respected sources to show a community’s starting point and change over time is a powerful way to involve communities and citizens – knowledge is power.

Disadvantages

  • You need to use data carefully because you can interpret it in many ways. For example, suppose the number of police callouts for an area increased. Data could imply that a particular group of people that moved into the area caused the extra calls. At the same time, perhaps, increased awareness or better relationships with police caused more people to call them. Which was the primary cause of the increased calls? You must note limitations and be very clear about what is and isn’t included. It’s important with any data to be cautious when you come to conclusions. It’s especially important when the data comes from official sources because we like to have confidence in public services and assume any data is legitimate, complete and robust.
  • Not all government agencies are used to releasing data, especially locally. They can be protective of client/customer information for a range of reasons, including making sure that individuals and whānau are not able to be identified. At a local level it can take a while to find the right person who manages the data. You need to build relationships with relevant people in the agencies and gain their confidence. They need to check that when they release information to you it won’t identify individuals or whānau.
  • It can be difficult to find out about data that is not listed in the directory–ask for what you need rather than presume it is not available.

Things to Think About

There can be many different interpretations of any data and context can be crucial to understanding it. For example, communities can be stigmatised when their data is compared with other communities. Credit for change may be given to only a few of those involved, depending on how the data is shared and understood.

Sharing complex data with communities can be challenging – images are often easier to understand than lists, tables and words.

Tiakina o Tātou Tamariki is a child protection programme hosted in two communities that uses statutory agency data for these neighbourhoods and ‘control’ communities; alongside residents’ surveys to track changes over time. Explore their story.

Consider involving those the data is about to help make sense of the information and to design ways to share it. Involve the community in the successes, issues and opportunities for change.