Introduction to the Census

Data Collection and Communication

Overview

There are three key elements to a successful data collection and communication phase: the efficient delivery of census forms to every person and occupied dwelling in New Zealand on census night; a high response rate from the New Zealand public; and the efficient collection of forms from every person and occupied dwelling. Without the response from the public, there would be no information to process and then output. The data collection phase of the 2006 Census was therefore crucial. For the 2006 Census, a public communications campaign was carried out to ensure that everyone in New Zealand had information about the census. The communication phase supported the data collection phase. Both phases are discussed in detail below.  

Data collection

The aim of the data collection phase of the census process was to count everyone who was in New Zealand on census night. Forms were delivered to approximately 4.2 million people and 1.6 million dwellings (one for every person and one for each occupied dwelling) prior to census day, and then collected after census day by census collectors. The volume of paper and people involved, and the need to perform the exercise in the most efficient and thorough manner, meant that the organisation of the data collection phase had to be carefully planned with the necessary procedures in place to ensure that everyone in New Zealand on census night was included.

Significant additional government funding for field staff was received for the 2006 Census. This contributed to better pay rates for field staff compared with previous censuses and improved conditions. Additional field staff were also able to be employed in some areas of New Zealand.

Statistics New Zealand divides New Zealand into units of land called meshblocks. A meshblock is the smallest geographic unit for which data is collected and processed. Meshblocks typically contain about 100 dwellings, although not all meshblocks are occupied. Water areas such as lakes and coastlines are also included in a meshblock area and therefore may not contain any dwellings. Meshblocks can vary in size from small central city or suburban blocks to large areas of rural land. At the time of the 2006 Census, there were approximately 41,000 meshblocks in New Zealand. Groups of meshblocks were combined to form around 6,500 subdistricts. A subdistrict is the expected workload that each collector can cover, delivering and collecting census forms in the time allowed.

Considerable time was spent in producing maps that assisted the collectors in their role. Every meshblock must appear on a map. For the 2006 Census, Statistics New Zealand worked closely with a mapping provider in producing around 8,000 maps. Some subdistricts required more than one map due to size or complexity. Maps were provided for the area managers, district supervisors and collectors.

The collection team

Around census time, the most visible part of the census were the 6,500 collectors who went door to door delivering and collecting forms. It was this group of people who formed the key part of the field operation. Recruitment of collectors started from June 2005, with a mailout to former census field staff. Further recruitment took place from December 2005. First and foremost, collectors had to have good people skills, as it was the meeting on the doorstep that was often crucial to obtaining cooperation in completing a census form. Collectors also brought with them organisational skills and a good knowledge of their community.

Supporting the collectors was a team of 412 district supervisors. Employed from December 2005 to April 2006, it was their responsibility to put together, train and support their team of collectors. They also contacted community groups, charities, hotels, motels, prisons, hospitals, camping grounds and other places where people may have been living on census night, so that forms could be distributed to everyone.

Twenty-two area managers provided support to the 412 district supervisors. Māori (kaitakawaenga) and Pacific liaison staff assisted by raising the awareness of census and the job opportunities within their communities. Recruitment support was also provided through some of the other communication strategies (see the communications section for details) including the Auckland, community and ethnic strategies. The field teams were assisted by staff located in the Statistics New Zealand offices in Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington.

The 22 large census areas that New Zealand was divided into were diverse, including a compact central Auckland area, an ethnically diverse South Auckland area, and vast rural areas in the middle of the North and South Islands. 

Training

One of the keys to a successful census is training. For the 2006 Census, a team of 11 specialist trainers was employed to train the supervisors working with the area management teams. The main role of the training officers was to provide quality training to the district supervisors, who then trained the collectors. The collector training was designed to be as practical as possible.

The supervisors had six days of training over the whole census process, covering an introduction to census, their own roles, and the process of recruiting, training and supervising a team of collectors. Every collector attended two active training sessions where opportunities to practise the skills needed were provided. Support materials for supervisors and collectors included handbooks, DVDs/videos, electronic learning and pre-training study. The training team was available in an ongoing capacity to support the supervisors in their own learning and training of their collectors. 

Delivery and collection

Delivery of census questionnaires commenced on 20 February 2006 and continued until census day. There was a peak of activity around census day, 7 March 2006, as many institutions, such as hospitals, prisons and hotels, did not have forms delivered until close to the time they were needed. In these situations, the district supervisor made contact with these organisations prior to form delivery. The collection of census forms from places such as hotels and hospitals was usually undertaken early the following day.

For the majority of households, the delivery of census forms was straightforward. The collector left two types of forms: one dwelling form and an individual form for everyone who would be in the dwelling on census night. Households were given the option of completing their census forms using English or Māori/English forms and notified of the online option. Members of the public living in the Northland or Whakatane/Gisborne areas were only delivered Māori/English forms but were informed about the online option.

If members of the household wished to complete their form online, a household PIN (personal identification number) was necessary. The collector handed this over in a sealed envelope. All members of the household used the same PIN. A printed Internet identification (known as the Internet ID) was also required and was available on the paper census form.

Following delivery of the census forms, the collectors recorded brief details in their fieldbooks. If the collector could not make contact after three attempts and believed it was likely that there would be people there on census night, then forms were left. Collection of the census forms started immediately after census day. Once again, for most households, the collection of their forms was straightforward. Once the collector had checked that the correct number of forms were there, the forms were stored securely in the collector's official Statistics New Zealand bag for return to the district supervisor. If the collector could not make contact after three attempts, then a freepost envelope was left for the forms to be returned in.

For members of the public concerned about who viewed their census information, privacy envelopes were available from the collector. The privacy envelope was a freepost envelope and was identified with a privacy sticker. Privacy envelopes were used by members of the public who did not want the collector or other members of the household to see their completed forms. The privacy envelopes were only able to be opened by the district supervisor.

As some members of the public chose to post their forms directly to Statistics New Zealand or used the online option, it was necessary to ensure that collectors did not revisit those households. A text messaging system was set up to notify collectors of forms that had been submitted online and any forms that had been returned to Statistics New Zealand by post.

The collection process had to be a little different for some places. Special collectors were employed for trains and shipping. For example, one Statistics New Zealand staff member spent four days on board a very large cruise ship to process the forms for everybody on board. Ferry passengers were issued with forms at the entry terminal, and the forms were then collected before sailing. Forms were also left in Department of Conservation huts and with camper van companies. Making contact with local city missions and other community support services ensured that the homeless were also counted in the census.

District supervisors often organised a community type event to help people to complete their forms. This was sometimes done with the assistance of groups such as the Refugee and Migrant Service.

Online option

The 2006 Census was the first time that an online census form option had been offered in New Zealand. It was available from 17 February until 31 March 2006, a period of 43 days. Respondents accessed the system through a secure website, using a unique household identification number (available on the paper census form) and a PIN (personal identification number). The PIN was provided by the collector during the form delivery phase. Respondents were able to complete their forms in Māori or English and received a receipt on submission. To aid form completion, online assistance was provided via help notes and general census information.

To reduce the risk of overloading the system, the online forms option was not promoted actively. As part of the planning for the online option, it was agreed that promotion would be on the doorstep and through selected high-usage Internet sites. Although the collectors were trained to offer an online PIN to all households, it has become apparent from research completed after the 2006 Census that this did not always happen.

During the data collection phase there were no major problems with the operation of the online option. The peak submission of online forms occurred between 7.30pm and 9.30pm on census day. Average session times for respondents using the online census option were 26 minutes for the individual and dwelling census forms. Eighty-seven percent of households that filled out census forms online filled out the dwelling form and all corresponding individual forms online. Analysis completed at the end of the data collection phase found that the uptake rate was more than 7 percent.

Collection challenges

Apartments

Form delivery for collectors in both the Auckland and Wellington central business districts was challenging. This was due to the high presence of inner-city apartments in these areas. Some collectors visited apartments three or four times and still found no one at home. In recognition of this issue, a media release was prepared urging members of the public living in apartments to contact the census helpline for forms.

Statistics New Zealand staff also undertook further research to determine whether the apartments should be treated as occupied, occupied but resident(s) away, or empty. Planning for the 2011 Census will look at developing improved strategies for delivering and collecting forms to and from people living in inner-city apartments.

New Zealander

A further issue arising during the field collection phase was the census ethnicity question. Public discussion focused on the lack of a tick box for 'New Zealander'. Although no tick box for New Zealander was available on the census forms, respondents did have the option of selecting ‘other’ for their ethnic group and writing New Zealander in the blank space provided. This option was also available for the 2001 and 1996 Censuses.

Considerable coverage was given to this issue across all news media. In the public arena, it became apparent that a campaign existed, encouraging people to write ‘New Zealander’ as a response to the census question on ethnicity. The campaign started in January 2006 with releases in newspapers. Television coverage and other media releases about the issue were particularly prominent from 25 February, when a politician levelled criticism at the ethnicity question used in the census. There were also email campaigns encouraging people to write ‘New Zealander’ for the ethnicity question.

Statistics New Zealand spokespeople and a media release were used to advise the New Zealand public that the ethnicity question was the same as that asked in the 2001 Census. The same question was necessary to enable comparison between censuses and was recommended by a wide range of census data users during a review of the measurement of ethnicity completed in 2004. The review found that the ability to compare ethnicity responses across censuses provides important information about how New Zealand's society is changing. The review also recognised that some people wished to write in their ethnicity as New Zealander, and as a result, Statistics New Zealand has introduced a change to the way it publishes ethnicity information. Although there was no specific tick box for New Zealander, the number of people who wrote in 'New Zealander' has been included with the census results.

Other challenges

A higher rate of mailback for the census forms created some challenges during form collection. Collectors also reported that sometimes it was necessary to return to a household a number of times to ensure that people completed their census forms. This reflected changes in the collection environment.

After the collection

All the forms were returned to the district supervisors after the collection. They were checked against fieldbooks for completeness and coverage, and then packed to send back to Christchurch for processing. District supervisors then turned their attention to following up forms that were not collected by the collector. Sometimes forms were not collected because the collector could not make contact, but there were also a small number of people who refused to complete census forms. One of the district supervisors' key roles at this point was to attempt to encourage those who refused to participate in the census to do so, and on many occasions they were successful.

By mid-April, the district supervisors had finished, and the area managers finished in mid-May. Each part of the field team was asked for its view on how the process could be improved for next time. This is part of the continuous quality improvement process that will contribute to the development of the collection phase for the 2011 Census.

Communications

Although the census is compulsory, Statistics New Zealand has increasingly recognised that the legal requirement to complete the census is not in itself enough to achieve the high response rate that is desired.

For the 2006 Census, there was a broad public communications programme, using advertising, news media, a series of community programmes and a website. The primary purpose was to provide information about the census and how to take part in a way that had a positive impact on the quantity and the quality of census data collected. The programme sought to ensure that everyone in New Zealand on census night was willing to complete their census forms as fully and accurately as possible. It also aimed to ensure that census respondents were aware of how to access assistance to help complete their forms. The main messages covered: what a census is; when and how to take part; why it is important; how the information is used; how personal information is kept confidential; and the options on how to take part (on paper or online and in English or Māori).

The campaign had two parts: an overarching programme that aimed to reach the population as a whole, and a series of supporting sub-programmes that targeted groups who have not participated as fully in past censuses as the general population. On the basis of field tests and the results of the 2001 Post-enumeration Survey and market research, Statistics New Zealand identified that it needed to find more effective methods of reaching Māori, Pacific peoples, and ethnic and youth communities. More focus needed to be placed on Auckland, which has a concentration of these groups.

The communications programme evolved through three main phases. The first phase, from July 2004, involved the development of strategies and resources. As well as using market research and the recommendations from the 2001 Census, the communications team discussed the challenges of census-taking with community groups and representative organisations for a wide range of groups in the community, including the elderly, students, children, the visually and hearing impaired, as well as with the targeted populations. This consultation helped to ensure that the census messages and resources met the needs of these communities and engaged community leaders in supporting the communications team's work in building awareness of the census.

From October 2005 onwards, the awareness-building was stepped up, with visits and public meetings. Information was distributed through community contacts, newsletters and email networks, the media, and through direct contact with the public. This allowed the field collection and community liaison teams to establish their community contacts at local level well in advance of census day, raised general awareness of the census, and helped in the recruitment of the local field teams.

From the end of January 2006, a major communications effort began to support the census data collection and help the public to take part. This included a mass advertising campaign with a series of television advertisements to provide overarching communication to all New Zealanders. These were supported with radio, print and Internet advertising and text messaging, to target the undercount groups with audience-specific messages. The advertising was also supported by a series of media releases and the availability of spokespeople to provide information and respond to any issues raised.

As the data collection phase drew to a close, the final messages focused on thanking the public for their participation and reminding the public that any outstanding forms needed to be returned. It also noted the next steps and signalled when the first census information, the provisional counts, would be available (see the output section for information on the provisional counts). In summary, a variety of different methods were used to get the census message out. The aim was to produce an integrated communications programme that achieved the widest possible coverage and reached the majority of New Zealanders.

The advertising campaign for the census was a major part of the communications programme and aimed to reach everyone who was in New Zealand on census day, through a mix of television, radio, newspaper, magazine, texting and Internet advertising. It had a dual focus. Firstly, to move New Zealanders from complying because they 'have to', to complying because they saw the real benefits of census to themselves, their community and to all New Zealand. Secondly, in a series of messages about form delivery and form collection, it provided the basic information on what happens, how to get help and how to take part.

Following the 2006 Census, research was undertaken to gain a greater understanding of public attitudes towards the census. The effectiveness of the 2006 Census communications programme was an important part of this research. Approximately 1,500 New Zealanders who were 15 years of age and older and were present in New Zealand on census night were surveyed by telephone. A key finding of this research was that 95 percent of those surveyed remembered seeing or hearing information about the 2006 Census prior to census night. This shows that the 2006 Census communications programme was very successful. However, those aged 15 to 24 years , Pacific peoples, and Asians reported significantly lower levels of awareness of information about the census than the total sample.

The research found that the main means of seeing or hearing about the census was through television advertising, with 90 percent of those surveyed reporting this. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed reported that they saw or heard about the census through the news programme media, 31 percent through newspaper or magazine advertising, and 26 percent through radio advertising.

Māori communities

A team consisting of a senior Māori liaison officer (kaitakawaenga matua), a national team of 11 census Māori liaison officers (kaitakawaenga ā-tatauranga) and two youth ambassadors (māngai rangatahi) delivered the 2006 Census Māori communications and liaison strategy. Collectively, the census Māori liaison officers targeted areas throughout New Zealand. Knowledge and expertise was also drawn from the Māori Statistics Unit that exists within Statistics New Zealand.

The Māori communications and liaison strategy aimed to ensure that Māori were fully informed about the 2006 Census and motivated to take part. The strategy consisted of four key objectives:

  • to raise the awareness of Māori in relation to the employment opportunities arising from census
  • to raise the awareness of Māori in relation to increased participation in census
  • to raise the awareness of Māori in building a solid constituency of Māori statistical data users
  • to provide guidance and advice to census field staff in relation to Māori issues.

A specialist Māori media advisory firm was contracted to deliver the media communications component of the Māori communications strategy. They worked alongside the census communications team to communicate messages about the census to Māori communities. Their main tasks were:

  • to ensure that the mainstream messages were structured in a culturally appropriate manner to attain maximum buy-in from Māori
  • to implement a programme that used Māori media and appropriate Māori channels to inform Māori about the census
  • to work with the field kaitakawaenga to create publicity opportunities and provide stories and profiles for their regional media.

Youth ambassadors were responsible for ensuring that the 2006 Census message was taken directly to youth in a way that was reflective of their needs. This was the first time that Statistics New Zealand had followed this approach.

The Māori liaison team also assisted with promotion of the Māori/English form, the Māori/English opening messages on the 0800 helpline, and general use of the Māori language during the census.

Pacific communities

The Pacific peoples communications campaign was essentially about targeting Pacific communities, communicating in Pacific languages, providing relevant explanations, and using Pacific media and community networks. It was important that those fronting, facilitating and presenting the campaign were all Pacific peoples, and that voices used for advertising on Pacific media were also of Pacific peoples. The campaign aimed to ensure that communication about key issues Pacific peoples were concerned with (such as the confidentiality of information, language barriers, length of the questions, and information on what the census provided for the Pacific communities) was available in an appropriate format.

The Pacific manager and 11 Pacific liaison officers led the Pacific communications programme. The 11 Pacific liaison officers were recruited to help drive the campaign via Pacific radio, Pacific television programmes, promotion of Pacific language posters and fliers, fono (meetings), churches and community gatherings. The Pacific liaison officers worked with the area management teams to close any gaps relating to collection and communication operations in their regions. The 11 liaison officers covered areas with a high presence of Pacific peoples. Six of the Pacific liaison officers were based in Auckland, two in Wellington, two in Christchurch and one in Hamilton. A Pacific communications adviser was also recruited to assist the Pacific team in their media campaign.

A number of strategies were implemented as part of the 2006 Census Pacific awareness programme. These included:

  • a media campaign that targeted the pacific ethnic media around census collection time
  • workshops for Pacific community leaders to provide information about the census and encourage participation from Pacific peoples
  • presentations were given at churches and community groups with known Pacific attendance near census collection time
  • stalls were set up at major Pacific events, such as the Pacific Leader Conference and markets with high Pacific attendance, to raise awareness of the census
  • stalls were also set up during orientations at several tertiary education institutions
  • a number of secondary schools with a high presence of Pacific students were visited.

The Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs assisted with promotion of the census. They identified key community leaders that could be contacted, undertook campaigning to ensure Pacific peoples were aware of job opportunities relating to the census, took part in radio programmes, and hosted community reference groups. The Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs network was used to raise awareness among Pacific peoples. 

Ethnic communities

The ethnic community communication programme incorporated the growing Asian population in New Zealand, the new ethnic communities arriving via the quota system, established ethnic communities, and overseas students. The programme was set up to encourage greater participation in the 2006 Census by ethnic community groups. It recognised that there were a growing number of ethnic communities within New Zealand, with many people who knew little about a New Zealand census. Some of these ethnic groups had arrived from war-torn countries and may have been reluctant to participate.

The strategy was to use a number of ethnic intermediary groups to give advice and assist with the set-up and implementation of education meetings and forums held in key resettlement areas of Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Invercargill. The ethnic intermediary groups included:

  • The Office of Ethnic Affairs
  • The Federation of Ethnic Councils
  • Refugee and Migrant Service (RMS)
  • City council ethnic advisers
  • English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) home tutor schemes
  • Language schools, and
  • New Zealand Immigration Service (settlement support).

Meetings and forums were used as a means of delivering a census education and awareness programme for community leaders, with the plan that they would communicate key census messages back to their communities in their own languages. Closer to census day, interpreters were offered in several centres where it was felt that families needed practical help to fill in census forms.

The programme identified priority ethnic groups where more resources were needed to encourage participation. Priority ethnic groups included those people who had only been in New Zealand for a short period of time, visitors and students.

As part of the ethnic strategy, various resources were created and initiatives undertaken:

  • a teaching resource produced through the ESOL home tutor scheme
  • Language leaflets available in 20 different languages
  • Eight languages available on the census helpline
  • a translation of the first 12 census questions for collection of non-private dwellings (NPDs) in the five most common tourist languages
  • a brochure for in-bound visitors in multiple languages to instruct them to fill in a census form
  • an ethnic media and advertising programme, including targeted radio, print newspaper and television programming
  • displays of census information at migrant centres
  • the information booklet developed as part of the community programme.

The ethnic programme depended on the support of the key ethnic group stakeholders and their knowledge of new communities.

Youth

As part of the 2006 Census, a youth communications programme was set up for the first time to increase the participation and the quality of responses by youth in the census. The results from the Post-enumeration Survey (PES) in 2001 showed that youth between the ages of 15 and 29 years had an undercount of 3.1 percent, which was significantly higher than the average for the whole population. The 15- to 24-year age group was the focus of the programme, with those aged under 15 years targeted through the schools programmes. The 25- to 29-year age group was captured by the general census communications programme.

Within the 15- to 24-year age group, the research indicated that the groups the programme most needed to reach were young males, Māori and Pacific youth, secondary, tertiary and overseas students, young immigrants and young people not involved in work or education. The research also indicated that there were a number of reasons why the census had been less successful in counting this age group. These included the mobile lifestyles of young people, in particular students, their different media consumption patterns, how the census was presented, and the issues around reaching groups who were outside traditional networks, such as education.

The youth communications programme therefore used messages tailored to the youth audience and resources specially developed for youth and organisations working with youth. These included the provision of census resources and emails for youth workers, mentors, community leaders and tertiary institutions. A communications project was set up for youth councils to assist with the promotion of the census through high schools. Census information was also included in the youth mainstream media. Events with a high number of young people in attendance were targeted as an opportunity to broadcast the census message, using a variety of means such as sponsorship, stalls and presentations. Nationwide competitions were organised. Youth-specific content was also provided for other census community programmes, including Māori, Pacific peoples and Auckland programmes.

Overseas students and young immigrants were also priority subgroups of this age group. Activities and resources aimed at these groups formed part of the ethnic communities programme.  

Schools

As part of the schools programme, Statistics New Zealand, in collaboration with teachers, developed a 2006 Census Education Resource. The resource was available free to all schools and was designed for primary, intermediate and secondary school requirements. The resource was fully self-contained and suitable for a variety of curriculum topics, including social sciences, geography and mathematics. Themes of special interest to students included: topics on population pyramids; changing employment; cultural diversity; planning for the future; groups and communities; and the census process. The resource was available in several languages, including English, Māori and Pacific (Samoan and Tongan) languages. A selection of related online resources and activities was also available.

The aim of the resource was to encourage students to participate in the census and to educate them about its importance. The activities incorporated the essential skills of gathering, sorting, interpreting and presenting information. It was planned that they would take the message home and therefore increase the participation rate of school-aged students and their family (or whānau).

Community organisations

Communication with community groups was a key component of the communications strategy for the 2006 Census. A census community project leader was responsible for implementing the programme and made personal contact with a wide range of community groups to establish the information needs of their members. Community groups were considered key stakeholder groups that would pass information on to their members through their own national networks. The community communications programme targeted general community groups as well as those that required particular messages and resources for their members to fill in census forms. Specific groups targeted included: childcare groups (parents of children), disability groups, homeless people, women, tourism (hotels/motels), animal care groups, recreationists and the elderly.

At a national level, the community project leader visited community groups to establish community group needs in terms of the census. Based on these visits, an information booklet was produced and distributed to community groups. At regional and local levels, contacts were made with community groups by the area managers and district supervisors working in the census field team.

Special resources were produced for groups requiring additional help to fill in a census form. These included:

  • a Braille questionnaire and audio tape for those with a sight impairment
  • a special fax line for the hearing impaired
  • a DVD that used New Zealand Sign Language for the hearing impaired.

Additional resources included:

  • a poster for childcare organisations (kindergartens, playcentres, childcare centres and Plunket)
  • newsletter material for community groups, institutions, accommodation providers, vehicle owners (caravans/motor homes)
  • collector recruitment posters.

The community programme also included provision of information resources to public libraries and Heartland Services (Ministry of Social Development – rural services).

Auckland community

A new development for the 2006 Census was the establishment of a collection strategy for the Auckland area. This was set up to maximise participation and the quality of data received from people within the Auckland region. An Auckland regional manager was employed to coordinate the collection strategy for the Auckland area and develop relationships with key stakeholders through the data collection phase. They were responsible for coordinating activities within the four cities and three districts of Auckland.

A number of programmes and activities were undertaken to ensure that the Auckland population was aware of the census. A liaison programme was set up with local and central government agencies and with community and support groups. Key business people were targeted, as well as prominent media representatives. Coordination occurred with city and district councils, youth organisations, Pacific, Māori and Asian peoples, new immigrant support groups, and universities within the Auckland region. Corporate and community groups were used as contact points to ensure that the Auckland community participated in the census.

To ensure that forms were delivered to apartments in Auckland city, liaison occurred with Housing New Zealand, body corporates, and organisations involved in selling city apartments. This ensured that suitable access was available to many of the Auckland apartment buildings during the collection phase.


Auckland field positions were filled by staff that reflected the diversity of the Auckland community. Coordination with Pacific and Māori liaison staff was important here. Mainstream media and communications assisted with targeting the mainstream Auckland population.

Helpline

Statistics New Zealand ran an 0800 Census helpline to assist the public with their enquiries about the census and how to take part. Internet queries, emails and faxes were also managed through the helpline. The helpline was active from 1 February 2006 (in conjunction with the launch of the publicity campaign), through to 1 May 2006, when the district supervisors had finished their follow-up of outstanding forms. The service was available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Assistance was offered in eight languages: English, Māori, Samoan, Tongan, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Hindi. Māori and English language help was available 24 hours a day, while help in other languages was available from 7am to 10pm, except from 6–8 March, when assistance was available 24 hours a day.

The helpline used a system of messages (interactive voice response) to allow callers to select the language in which they wanted to make their enquiry and to help determine what their enquiry was about. All calls were then transferred to an operator to be answered. Calls requiring more attention, such as technical enquiries regarding the online census option, or questions about field procedure, were escalated via email, and a member of the Statistics New Zealand staff would then call the respondent.

A field communication service was also run through the helpline. Collectors were notified of any helpline requests or forms received by Internet or post. This mainly occurred through text messaging to cellphones used by the collectors. A helpline action log was also set up to detail text message information sent to the field. This enabled district supervisors to identify areas experiencing problems, and pass on messages to contact collectors who were out of cellphone range. A total of 279,211 text messages were sent to collectors.

The helpline clearly played an important role in helping the public to understand what happens at census time and enabling their participation. Around 214,000 calls were made to the helpline. Queries about the delivery or collection of census forms were the main type of enquiry. The public also commonly asked for assistance with specific questions about the census forms.

The addition of up-to-date census information on both the 'About Census' website and the provision of help topics within the online census website provided a further means for the public to access help services. During the census form collection period, around 46,000 households visited the 'About Census' website, while around 30,000 visits were made to the online help topics.

Prosecutions

Once the data collection phase was completed, effort was put into following up refusal reports by district supervisors and area managers. Refusal reports are created by collectors for respondents who refused to participate in the census. Respondents are sent reminders, urgent reminders, then a notice of liability letter, in order to encourage them to fill out their census forms. For a small group of people, this process is followed through by the court system.