Geographic boundaries

This is a guest post by Helen Ensikat from the Department of Treasury’s Program Evaluation Unit.

Many public sector datasets refer to location – for example, data on health spending in the Kimberley, or the number of ratepayers in the City of Vincent.

However, there is no common standard for defining geographic boundaries in Western Australia.  Over time, different agencies have taken many different approaches to dividing the State into areas relevant to their work.

Even where boundaries are based on a common standard - for example, Local Government Areas – datasets don’t always come with documentation explaining which standard has been used (or which version of the standard).

This makes it difficult to compare, interpret, and mash up data from different agencies. It  can cause significant issues for data users who are trying to perform complex, whole-of-government analysis.

Users with a background in geography or spatial science will be familiar with these problems.  However, it can come as a surprise to other data users to find, for example, that ‘the South-West’ in one agency’s spreadsheet is not equivalent to a region with the same name in another agency’s spreadsheet.  This can make it hard to understand the location information provided in a single dataset, let alone combined data from a range of agencies.

There are currently very few resources to help data users to understand the issue, and to get started on projects that use geographically mismatched data.  We have developed the Geographic Boundaries Guide to help fill this gap.

The Guide provides an introduction to the boundaries used by Australian and Western Australian agencies, advice on working with data that has a geographical component, and on best practices in setting boundaries.  It has been designed for data users without a spatial background who want to learn more about how boundaries are set in Western Australia. It will be especially useful to those who find themselves working with spreadsheets and databases that include location data.  It also includes an extensive appendix that lists and describes the boundaries used by various agencies.

We’re keen to make sure the Guide remains a living document. So let us know if you have additional boundaries to add to the appendix, or if you spot any information that is in error or out of date, so we can update the next version.

We’ve also created a new group called ‘Boundaries’ on data.wa.gov.au to collate the boundary datasets available.

Many thanks must go to the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Landgate for their help in developing the Guide.  Both of these agencies have a wealth of experience in working with geographical boundaries, and are key sources of technical advice for those who find themselves working with geographically mismatched data.

Key points:

  • The Western Australian Department of Treasury’s Program Evaluation Unit has produced a new guide to geographic boundaries in Western Australia.
  • The guide is available now on data.wa.gov.au.
  • Access the boundaries datasets through the ‘Boundaries’ group on DataWA.

Helen is a Senior Analyst in Treasury’s Program Evaluation Unit who specialises in public sector data policy and analysis. The Program Evaluation Unit assists in the consistent and transparent evaluation of government funded programs to ensure they are delivering value for money, and works to embed culture of evaluation across the Western Australian public sector.