Australia Talks

Category: Innovation (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Australia

Organisation: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 10 Jun 2019

Credit: Australia Broadcasting Corporation and Vox Pop Labs

Project description:

With Australia Talks, the ABC created a first-of-its-kind initiative that delivered unprecedented insights into the thoughts, feelings and everyday lives of Australians.

Partnering with Vox Pop Labs, the ABC created a National Survey with a representative sample of 54,000 Australians. The data informed:

Australia Talks sparked important conversations about climate change, mental health, national identity, sex, and more.

Impact reached:

Australia Talks aimed to reach out to the Australian community and start conversations about issues that matter. An impact study found that 30 per cent of Australians engaged with the project.

  • The Australia Talks news application was completed by more than 450,000 people.

  • The National Survey informed more than 90 online articles, with 15 million pageviews and 41 million engaged minutes.

  • More than 40 featured broadcast stories were created for key TV and radio programs.

  • ABC accounts shared more than 750 social posts, creating more than 2 million engagements and 1.1 million video views.


The survey

The National Survey was the first study of its kind — a huge sample size of 54,000 across almost 500 questions. The data (aggregated and anonymised) is going to be made publicly available in 2020.


Audience focus

The project led to targeted content offerings for: Culturally and Linguistically Diverse people, 18 to 34-year-olds and those living in the suburban corridors of Australia’s biggest cities. Content was translated into Simplified Chinese, Bahasa Indonesian, Arabic and Vietnamese to reach those audiences.


Community Engagement and social impact campaign

Dozens of community engagement events including outside broadcasts and community meetings were held, providing important opportunities for content teams to talk with local communities about what matters and help inform story commissioning.


Innovative content

As part of the initiative, teams were invited to pitch innovative content ideas for funding. The content created from this small fund was some of the most engaging from the project, and these experiments have had an ongoing impact on the way journalism is conducted at the ABC. Key funded projects included community embeds for news reporting teams, a series of cartoons tailored to speak to CALD Australians’ experiences, social videos for Chinese Australians, and powerful first-person opinion pieces.

Techniques/technologies used:


The Australia Talks National Survey of 54,000 Australians was an epic undertaking, two years in the making, conducted in conjunction with social scientists and data scientists at Vox Pop Labs.

We started by crowd-sourcing areas of concern for Australians through open-text questions put to thousands of Australians from across the political and sociodemographic spectrum. With an academic advisory panel, we then designed 500 questions that tested the attitudes and behaviours of Australians.

The massive sample size provided sufficient statistical power to permit granular inferences into differences across demographics such as sex, age, and geography. Pre- and post-stratification techniques were applied to the sample in order to ensure that inferences derived from the survey were representative of the population and sub-populations of interest.


Data analysis

Techniques such as raking and multi-level regression and poststratification were used in order to model the data so as to render findings representative of the Australian population. Weights were derived using the Australian census estimates for sex, age, education level, language spoken at home, geographic region, state, and 2019 Australian federal election vote.

Data analysis and cleaning was conducted using a wide array of tools, including R, python, Tableau and Excel.


News application

We created a personalised, interactive tool that let 450,000 Australians answer a subset of the survey questions, so they could find out exactly how they compared to the rest of the nation. Each individual received one of 574 sextillion possible personalised results pages — all available in English, Simplified Chinese, Vietnamese and Arabic. The application was built using the latest web technologies, which allowed for a sophisticated, seamless user experience. The tool’s results pages used a range of data visualisation and storytelling techniques to help the user understand their own identity in the larger narrative of the Australian community.

What was the hardest part of this project?

This project was the first of its kind for the ABC: developing an entirely new 496-question survey, an engaging digital tool which serves personalised results with 574 sextillion result combinations available in four languages and using these results to inform engaging and meaningful journalism for multiple audiences.

Ensuring that the survey maintained research rigour but framed questions in a way that was interesting and meaningful for a mass audience was an involved and challenging process.

Partnering with University of Melbourne and a core group of seven academic advisors from universities across the country for the National Survey added rigour and credibility to the survey but also further levels of complexity.


Developing a cross-platform, multi-team content strategy with associated community engagement and social impact campaigns was new and complex. Our storytelling teams in digital, radio and television needed data and insights specific for their audience but we had to ensure that the overarching content proposition as a whole made sense to the audience all the while holding back some of the most interesting insights for the live show meant there were many competing priorities to juggle. The eight-week campaign was grouped around 14 topics (e.g. gender, discrimination, cost of living, climate change) to manage this with data and insights released to teams along with a master planning document covering all content planned for the campaign — more than 90 digital stories, 40 across radio and television with dozens of flow radio programming spots across the country.

What can others learn from this project?

1. The power of listening to and engaging with your community

Australia Talks involved extensive community engagement — from its earliest stages through to completion. The survey was developed using an array of crowdsourcing techniques to ensure it tackled topics of interest and relevance to people from a diverse range of communities.

The ABC also held dozens of community events across the country — from our big cities to tiny towns — ensuring people from all walks of life understood the goals and findings. That was further extended with an impact campaign that took the issue which most united people in the survey (the need for respect), and invited people to share their own experiences.


2. How to make data stories entertaining as well as informative

The Australia Talks National Survey consisted of nearly 500 questions, presented to a total of 54,000 people. The ABC’s Factual and Entertainment teams were set the unenviable challenge of turning those dry numbers into 90 minutes of live television for a mass audience.

They created a show that was informative, surprising, insightful, funny — and challenging. The program attracted a younger, unique audience for the ABC, and held them across the 90 minutes with a rich combination of data visualisation mixed with real human stories. The approach provides much that data storytellers around the world could take their cues from.


3. How partnering across disciplines can extend your journalism

The ABC has a long history of delivering important journalism. But journalists are not trained in the latest methods of social science or public opinion research.

To develop such a sophisticated project, it was necessary to marry the ABC’s journalistic prowess with specialists in social science and data science. Australia Talks proves that the combination of journalism with social science can deliver powerful results.

Project links:

australiatalks.abc.net.au/ (online tool page)

australiatalks.abc.net.au/results/2ba047c5-e507-42cb-add5-71a723645701 [indicative results page]

vimeo.com/388880381 (password: Australiatalks) [Australia Talks live show TX 18 November 2019]

www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-15/sex-dating-and-prejudice-why-we-are-a-nation-sharply-divided/11694038 [digital story using data]

www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-17/what-youd-spend-to-halt-climate-change-and-what-you-could-get/11784704 [digital story using data]

www.abc.net.au/news/about/backstory/digital/2019-10-24/australia-talks-your-questions-answered/11608434 [explainer]

www.abc.net.au/life/annabel-crabb-and-leigh-sales-share-their-kindness-heroes/11704014 [kindness campaign]