Reaching the hard-to-reach: Census 2013

Being responsible PR people, we all heard the census campaign messages and dutifully filled in our forms on census day. But what about those New Zealanders who can’t be bothered, don’t have as strong a sense of civic responsibility, feel threatened by the census, object to it, can’t read it, or don’t speak English? Kerry Lamont, from Statistics New Zealand, presented to PRINZ Central Division members on this question at the April PR Breakfast session at the Wellington Club.

The 2011 census was cancelled because of the Christchurch earthquake, and while this made it all the more important to have as many New Zealanders as possible participate in the 2013 census, it also provided the opportunity to review the communications that were originally planned for the 2011 census. With the lag in data, getting the hard-to-reach groups to participate had become all the more important, as the census needs to provide an accurate picture of all social sectors of New Zealand so that future services such as health and education can be planned out.

So, when Statistics New Zealand reviewed its preparation for the 2011 census, it made some changes to bring a sharper focus onto getting the hard-to-reach groups to participate. The other significant strategy made possible by the time lag was a big push to get the general public to complete their census on line, which would perhaps reduce the need for repeated face-to-face visits in future censuses.

The hard-to-reach sectors are Maori, Pacific Island, Asian, Chinese, and young people. Privacy can be a big concern among these groups, and they are less likely to participate if they believe that their information will be shared across government. So one of the messages was that in fact the census is one of the very few government data-collecting activities where personal information will not be shared between departments, for that very reason.

One of the key tactics employed to reach the hard-to-reach groups was a paid network of over 20 community liaison people who could wield influence in their communities. Kerry emphasised that it is vital to find good people to do this work, of the right level and age to get into the community and influence, and it is well worth spending a lot of time on your recruitment process to get the right ones. She described a criteria ‘sieve’ that each person had to pass through to make the grade, including: is respected; has a track record of initiating change in a community; is influential with the hard-to-reach group; is well networked; is able to translate key messages; and has high personal commitment to the census.

Kerry observed that it is more effective to have separate liaison people for Maori and Pacific Island groups. She added that if you get the right people to do liaison, there’s not such an issue with koha.

Kerry said that the community liaison network did not need to be micro-managed and it was better to let them go off and do their jobs, and just to support them with the paperwork. Some wanted more control over media and advertising, but Kerry said she was not prepared to do this, although she would not rule it out in future. She ensured they all got media training, and she set clear boundaries as to what they could and could not respond to in the media.

The community liaison network worked well, reaching 1.1 million otherwise hard-to-reach New Zealanders.

One interesting tactic was a video-booth tent at Waitangi, where people could go in to record their views on the census. The video was then used on YouTube.

Migrant groups can also have different education levels and language barriers, making completing a census form somewhat of a challenge for them. Marketing material was translated into 27 languages, bringing its own challenges in terms of accuracy. Kerry commented that with this many translations, you have to accept that you’ll never get everything 100% right.

Kerry said that her team of seven steered clear of going to events to promote the census, on the basis that the investment is quite large, and people at the event are more interested in food and entertainment than in talking to government.

Social media was a large focus for the young hard-to-reach group. Kerry said that this group spans all cultures and backgrounds, as young people tend to define themselves as ‘young’ first, and then what culture they are second.

The youth strategy for 2011 performed badly when it was tested three years on, so changes were made. In particular, the radio campaign did not test so well, so it was canned. By 2013, the ad agency had a younger team who were more able to capture successfully 90% of the 800,000 young New Zealanders who are on Facebook.

For this younger audience, Statistics NZ focussed on getting just one simple message across: do your census online. A Facebook page with a ‘street art’ look was created. Sponsorship and competitions with modest prizes were used to push people to the page. People could chat to each other. Regional results were posted on a map, and comments were published in a graffiti style along with the person’s Facebook picture.

Kerry said that they reached 500% engagement for Facebook:

Engagement = users talking


 Statistics NZ forged a partnership with TNVZ U Channel to promote the census to youth in a very cost-effective way. The hosts talked about the census, announced prizewinners, and plugged the Facebook page. Kerry said it is a great channel for youth engagement.

In the past, youth ambassadors have been used, but Kerry said she opted not to this time, as they are tricky to manage and have limited impact, not having the maturity to access communities at the right level in order to access their youth members in turn.

In summary, Kerry said that getting the right team together – both in-house and as a community liaison network was the key to a successful census campaign.

PRINZ central members are now looking forward to the May PRINZ conference in Christchurch, and the evening Parliamentary event on 5 June where the longest-serving MPs meet the newer ones to debate their experiences of PR and lobbying.

Write-up by Katie Mathison FPRiNZ


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