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Oamaru has been chosen by Statistics New Zealand to act as a "guinea pig" during the 2013 census, to decide if a new online census system can be rolled out nationally in 2018.
Philippa Kidd, of Statistics NZ's strategy and development unit, told the Waitaki District Council of the whole on Tuesday that residents living in a large section of Oamaru would be the only people in the country to receive direct mail instructing them to complete the census online.
Oamaru had been chosen as a special administrative area, to test a new way of streamlining the census process, which could reduce the need for people to go door to door delivering forms, Ms Kidd said.
The 2013 census, which will take place on March 5, would cost the Government $90 million to run, and it would take 10 ship containers to hold the seven million paper census forms that were due to be sent out this year, she said.
Those sort of costs were not sustainable and new methodology to gather census information was needed, which first had to be tested, she said.
Oamaru was the perfect place to carry out that test, she said.
"We looked at all the 2006 census administrative areas, and Oamaru had one of the highest online uptakes, and Oamaru also had a very high response to the census itself."
It was hoped 60% of residents in the test area would take part online, compared with an estimated 35% online uptake in other parts of the country.
"We are only doing it in one area. We don't want to get to 2018 and find out it doesn't work."
Oamaru census results would be compared with those of another town in the North Island, which would act as a "control area", she said
The identity of that town is being kept secret.