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Statistical standard for geographic areas: 2015 review

Latest news

See Statistical standard for geographic areas: 2015–17 review for latest news on this review. 

Purpose of this webpage

This webpage gives an overview of the review we are undertaking of the Statistical Standard for Geographic Areas (SSGA), and lets you know how you can give your feedback on proposed changes.

Consultation for the first round closed on Monday 21 December 2015.

See Statistical standard for geographic areas: Feedback from 2015 review for the feedback from this consultation.

We sought feedback on these documents:

About the review

The review is a major review of all of Statistics NZ statistical geographies and will determine the optimal statistical geographies required for outputting Statistics NZ data.

The review will develop a set of statistical geographies for input and output purposes, which will include definitions of geographic concepts, standards, boundaries, and maintenance strategies.

Creating a new statistical standard is important because the SSGA underpins our geographic output and the statistics we publish. An up-to-date standard ensures our statistics are relevant, consistent, high quality, and easy to use.

Why are we reviewing the standard?

The SSGA was last updated before 1992 and was released as part of the New Zealand Standard Areas Classification (NZSAC) manual. Due to inadequate standards and technology for maintenance, the current statistical geographies have become out of date. This has led to a variation in quality across New Zealand.

Together with increasing demands for small area statistics and advancements in geographic information system (GIS) technologies, it is clear we need to review our geographies to better meet user needs.

What will be covered by the review?

The review is being done in two phases. In phase 1, we will review small area output geographies (including area units), and the urban/rural classification. We will also collect information on the need for further statistical geographies.

In phase 2, we will look at other relevant geographies that will make our data more meaningful for users. These may include geographies relevant to a super-city, Māori, or even labour market areas. Other geographies may be added as they’re identified.

What are the benefits for our customers? 

  • Our statistical data will be more relevant. 
  • New geographies will be created to fill identified gaps.
  • Updated geographic standards will reflect current needs. 
  • Geographies will align with international practice, and our national characteristics. 
  • Geographies will capitalise on the data and technology that is now available. 
  • Our maintenance plans will make sure geographies stay relevant.

What is being covered in this consultation?

The SSGA review is currently in phase 1. The focus of phase 1 is on small area output geographies and the urban/rural classification. Initially consultation is focused on establishing and defining standards and concepts.

Once the geographic standards have been set and approved, we will set boundaries (2016–17) and seek feedback on the proposed geographies at the appropriate time.

You can provide feedback on as many or as few of the consultation papers as you see as relevant to your work.

Small area geographies

We have updated the meshblock standard to reconfirm user needs and requirements for a geographic area that optimised data collection and aggregation.

See Statistical standard for meshblock.

The new standard documents a clear purpose for meshblocks and the technical requirements to meet statistical and wider government requirements. It is largely consistent with the 1992 standard due to the continuing relevance of the requirements and approach, with two main areas of change. First, technical requirements formerly documented by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) are now included so that the standard reflects all of government practice. Second, minor changes have been made to reflect how meshblocks will be managed with modern technology. The conceptual and fundamental basis of the meshblock remains the same as in 1992. When we revised the meshblock standard, we developed a new small output geography, namely statistical area 1 (SA1). The SA1 output geography will be optimised for the release of low level data.

See Small-area geographies: Consultation on population size of statistical area 1 for the proposed SA1 geography. It describes two options for the population size of an SA1 and seeks feedback on the proposed size for this geography.

The second part of the small area geographies review is the area unit. To better reflect the hierarchical nature of the statistical output geographies, the area unit will be renamed to statistical area 2 (SA2).

See Small-area area geographies: Consultation on population size of statistical area 2 for information on the proposed purpose and requirements for the SA2 geography. It also provides two options for the population size of an SA2 and requests user feedback on the proposed size for the SA2 geography.

As part of the review of small area geographies, we established some fundamental principles of small area output geographies. These are outlined below and apply to both the SA1 and SA2 geographies.

Fundamental principles of small area geographies


Relevant geographies that enable the release of meaningful statistical outputs at different levels (or scales).


  1. Standard population size. The population size of the geographic area should be consistent to ensure comparability. Geographies must have a minimum and maximum population threshold and the range should be minimised as much as possible. The population size of the geographic area should be balanced between releasing detailed information and considering privacy and confidentiality, to ensure that robust statistical outputs can be produced. 
  2. Compact shape. The boundary shape should be compact to provide flexible and relevant building block geographies for users, and to assist with data visualisation. 
  3. Boundaries are identifiable or relatable to the user. Users will make better use of data if the boundaries relate to their geography. Boundaries should follow dividing features such as rivers, highways, railway lines, and lakes. They should also maintain internal social homogeneity where possible to help with the relatability and relevance of an area. Homogeneity will also assist with analysis, research, and the ability to output data without suppression. 
  4. Stable over time. Geographies should remain stable, where possible, to allow the comparison of data over time. While the smallest geographies should be regularly maintained to ensure they are relevant and reflect real world changes, larger geographies should remain relatively stable. Each geography should have clear maintenance plans that specify criteria for changing boundaries. Where possible, changes to the smallest geographies should occur within the boundaries of the larger geographies.

Small area output geographies should:

  • have well defined and objective criteria 
  • be mutually exclusive and therefore not overlap
  • be comprehensive, covering the whole area to which the classification applies
  • have clear, objective maintenance criteria and plans
  • align to territorial authority and regional council boundaries
  • separate land and water (where possible) 
  • separate urban and rural areas (where possible).

Urban/rural classification

The second part of this phase 1 consultation is the urban/rural classification.

See Urban/rural geography: Consultation on proposed characteristics for more information about the new urban/rural geography, and how to send your feedback to help us develop the classification.

The new geography will replace the existing urban areas classification, and the urban/rural profile experimental series.

Other geographies

Phase 2 of our review will identify and create other statistical geographies as appropriate. This may include a super-city breakdown, geographies relevant to Māori, or labour market areas. If there are other statistical geographies that you would like the review team to consider for phase 2, which is likely to start in 2018, please submit your suggestions for consideration to geographyreview@stats.govt.nz.

Thank you

Thank you for your feedback and submissions from the 2015 consultation. To ensure our geographies, and therefore our data, is best suited to the information needs of New Zealanders, your feedback is vitally important to us.

The feedback received in this consultation will directly be used to help define the concepts and standards for the SA1 and SA2 geographies and the urban/rural classification.

Further consultation will occur in 2016 as appropriate.

Any questions?

Contact: geographyreview@stats.govt.nz.

Statistics New Zealand (2015). Statistical standard for geographic areas: 2015 review. Retrieved from www.stats.govt.nz.

ISBN 978-0-908350-16-2 (online)
Page published 23 November 2015; updated 3 May 2016 and 20 October 2016

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