CDU population expert to brief United Nations


Tom Wilson is off to the United Nations in New York.

Tom Wilson is off to the United Nations in New York.

One of the Territory’s own has been given the distinction of presenting new population research to the United Nations next month. 

Charles Darwin University Principal Research Fellow Dr Tom Wilson will address the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the New York headquarters.

Dr Wilson said the United Nations was keen to hear his findings of whether users wanted to know about uncertainty in subnational population forecasts. It has been a high priority of the division tasked with estimating and projecting levels and trends of populations for every country.

Subnational population projections give an indication of the possible size and structure of a future population based on the continuation of demographic trends. It is a series of population estimates for countries from the level of states, regions and provinces.

“By their very nature, population forecasts cannot be precise. There are many unpredictable factors at play, so it is better to present a range of possible futures,” Dr Wilson said.

“This information is used by government and business sectors for reasons such as workforce planning, service delivery and infrastructure requirements.

“They often inform multimillion dollar decisions from whether to build a new school or aged care facility to finding new land for a cemetery or a housing development.”

Dr Wilson said there had been debate among statisticians about the usefulness of forecast uncertainty, but no real research had been undertaken on what the users wanted. An online survey of Australian users of population forecasts was undertaken, followed by focus groups, and the publication of a paper soon afterwards.

“Surprisingly, nine out of 10 survey respondents wanted this information - although one third did not use any uncertainty information and many found the jargon confusing,” he said.

“This strengthens the case for forecasters to quantify the uncertainty of subnational population forecasts. It also requires further work to create fully developed models and to design more effective communication tools.”

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