Data is the buzz word of the decade: the information age is generating more of it than Tim Berners-Lee might ever have imagined when he first dabbled in computer networking. To put a number on it, the world is creating 1.3 trillion gigabytes of data a year, and that figure is growing very fast.
Most of that data isn't going to change the world: the selfies, cat videos and Netflix binges, and the Google treasure hunts that end in cul de sacs. But right at your fingertips there's one treasure trove of data that every community organisation should be tapping into, and that's the census.
Following the 2021 census we now know, for starters, that more than eight million Aussies have a long-term health condition, millennials are overtaking boomers in number, religion is on the decline, and more people identify as Indigenous. There’s a lot more to know. Here are five ways you can make the most of Australia's biggest database.
1. Supercharge your grant application
If you want a government authority, friendly philanthropist, donor, crowdfunder or any other funding source to stump up for your project, you need to prove you're providing a service that someone needs.
For starters, examine the Census QuickStats, which allow you to punch in a postcode or area for a swift demographic breakdown with information about gender, age, place of birth, income, cultural diversity and employment. Often funders will want you to demonstrate how you're going to target specific groups.
2. Understand who you're dealing with
Want to better understand your members, supporters and clients? The census gives you the power. A detailed breakdown allows you to generate a "community profile" that can track changes in those demographic and cultural trends, including over the past five census surveys.
Want to know how many people in your neck of the woods are from Bosnia or Bangladesh? Download the spreadsheet and crunch the numbers yourself. As the census takers put it: "Community Profiles are excellent tools for researching, planning and analysing geographic areas for a number of social, economic and demographic characteristics".
3. See the future
Every organisation needs to be thinking ahead, and even a cursory look at the census results reveals a great deal about our rapidly changing population.
Involved in religion, housing, employment, new arrivals, the young, the old, women's issues, men's issues? It's time to re-examine your assumptions about who you're serving and how
Where Aussies are choosing to live, understanding electoral areas, the decline in Christianity, the flood of arrivals in big cities from the regions – the census maps the rises and falls, the ebbs and the flows.
4. Get in front of the pressure points
The chatter in the media and in the street often lags behind looming trends in work, unemployment, financial pressures, cultural clashes and social upheaval. While the census won't tell you the answers, it can give you the signs. You don't need to be an expert trendspotter in your field to start reading the signals.
5. Make more connections
Interrogating the data about your suburb, local government area and state means you'll be on top of trends – including where all the new residents are coming from, and which groups are declining in importance.
Speaking of making connections, do you know how many people in your area use the Internet at home? The ABS does.