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ABS Looks To Broaden Volunteering Census Data


26 March 2018 at 5:50 pm
Luke Michael
A consultation on volunteering data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has found that statistics on informal volunteering are a critical data gap that needs to be addressed, in order to better inform policy development and effective service delivery.


Luke Michael | 26 March 2018 at 5:50 pm


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ABS Looks To Broaden Volunteering Census Data
26 March 2018 at 5:50 pm

A consultation on volunteering data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has found that statistics on informal volunteering are a critical data gap that needs to be addressed, in order to better inform policy development and effective service delivery.

The ABS launched a national public consultation on statistics for volunteering and giving in April 2017, to “clarify the data needs of Australian communities and decision-makers for information on volunteering and giving activity”.

The ABS has now released an information paper detailing findings from the consultation.

It noted that an increase in “informal” volunteering had led to calls for the ABS to change its current definition of volunteering, which is: “The provision of unpaid help willingly undertaken in the form of time, service or skills, to an organisation or group, excluding work done overseas”.

“By 2013, Volunteering Australia had deemed this definition to be too narrow to capture the breadth of volunteer practices undertaken in Australia, as it only recognises formal volunteering for not-for-profit organisations,” the paper said.

“They note that the term ‘volunteering’ covers a wide range of activities, including formal activities (which take place within organisations, institutions and agencies) and informal activities (which take place outside the context of a formal organisation and structured volunteering activities).

“The revised 2015 VA definition is much broader in scope: ‘Volunteering is time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain.’ There was strong support in both the government and national consultations for the ABS to adopt this new definition of volunteering.”

The ABS said while it recognised “the importance of capturing data that reflects emerging trends and changing data needs”, it also wanted to retain time series continuity for the formal volunteering rate.

It said it had redesigned the General Social Survey (GSS) which measures the official number of volunteers in Australia – to capture informal, online and spontaneous volunteering, as well as maintaining the time series of existing formal volunteering items.

“As with the government consultation, a strong theme of the national consultation submissions was that statistics on informal volunteering are a critical data gap,” the paper said.

“In the absence of being able to quantify both formal and informal volunteering, it is not possible to understand the true amount of voluntary activity that people engage in. The ABS has reviewed its volunteering data question set for the 2019 GSS to capture both formal and informal volunteering.

“It is expected this new module will contribute to a broader understanding of total volunteering activity, and assist with future reviews of the ABS volunteering standard.”

VA said they welcomed the findings from the consultation and that it was “positive to see” the ABS responding to their updated definition of volunteering.

Policy manager Lavanya Kala told Pro Bono News that she hoped future census data would better measure the contributions of the volunteering community.

“Previous data collections have solely focused on formal volunteering through non-profit organisations, and excludes capturing volunteers who are informal, or who may volunteer in emergency services, the private sector, sports, education, the arts, or in their community,” Kala said.

“The inclusion of informal volunteering in future GSS collections will ensure that we capture a broader range of volunteering activity and characteristics. This will ensure more robust and accurate data collection, which is essential for ongoing policy development, future planning, and effective service delivery outcomes.

“Volunteering Australia is hopeful that with the findings of this consultation, there will also be better-quality data in the 2021 Census that more accurately reflects the contributions of the volunteering sector.”

Emily Walter, the director of ABS Household Characteristics and Social Reporting, thanked community stakeholders for talking part in the consultation.

“The ABS received 32 high quality submissions from government, community, private and not-for-profit organisations and individuals in response to the discussion paper,” Walter said.

“We are very grateful for the expertise and detail provided by those who prepared a submission on this important topic.”


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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One comment

  • Karen Ellis says:

    My husband and I choose to informally volunteer. We do not want to be ‘managed’ by NFPs and be labelled formal volunteers. We self-mobilise our volunteering efforts and take control of our own retirement. We recently participated in a lengthy interview on behalf of a large charity on this topic, and were pleased to inform, share our insights and experiences.

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