Project Diary

August 24, 2021

Mu Li, PhD student on the SPARSE project, presented his thesis proposal review titled “Bivariate outcome small area estimation with spatio-temporal effects: the case of smoking prevalence in Australia” to the School of Demography.

Mu provided a detailed and comprehensive overview of the state of the art of small area estimation, including M-quantile regression and copula methods. His first year of PhD study has been dominated by coursework but Mu also spoke about a couple of side project involving estimation of US smoking prevalence rates, and developing a time-varying SEIFA index which will have the potential to feed directly into the application of the models he will develop in his thesis.

The models which Mu has in his sights are clever combinations of multivariate M-quantile regression and Bayes regression, with various combinations of spatial and temporal effects. I’m very excited about the prospects for this project as they will not only contribute to methodology in the small area estimation field, but will also contribute to the quality of estimates developed for SPARSE and the associated mapping of smoking prevalence.

August 10, 2021

Sumon Das, Research Fellow working on the SPARSE project, presented a seminar titled “Multilevel time series modelling of antenatal care coverage in Bangladesh at disaggregated administrative levels” to the School of Demography.

In this study Sumon and colleagues applied multilevel time series (MTS) models to estimate trends in time series based on Demographic and Health Surveys from 1994 to 2014. The models are expressed in a Bayesian framework with Normal priors, though Fay-Herriot style estimates are also used to calculate direct estimates that feed into the models too. The trend estimates at notional level behave in the expected manner, with a gradual decline in women receiving no antenatal care, and a gradual rise in women receiving the preferred four antenatal care visits. At division (seven of those) and district (64 of those) level though, the trends provided by the MTS models are much more variable including unexpected rises and falls over the time period. The MTS models are able to smooth many of these anomalies, providing policy makers with better quality information on which to base their interventions and programs in the maternal healthcare space. The work has been submitted to the Journal of Survey Methodology 

August 10, 2021

August 10 is Census Day in Australia. The SPARSE team relies on Census data from 2011 and 2016 to produce the small area estimates of smoking prevalence that form the core of the project deliverables. We really encourage everyone in Australia on Census night 2021 to complete their online form. The data from this year will start to make an impact on our models from mid-2022, and we need everyone to respond fully in order to do our best work. Thanks in advance, “every stat tells a story”!

July 5-9, 2021

The SPARSE team submitted a poster to the Australian and New Zealand Statistics Conference. The conference was notionally on the Gold Coast, but all the talks and events were online from 5 – 9 July 2021. Because of timelines, the poster describes the aims of the project and the work the team plans to do. Next year the conference will be in Darwin and we hope to not only be able to report results from the SPARSE project but also present them in person.


May 18, 2021

School of Demography seminars. The School asks grant recipients to present a 30-minute talk on their project near the beginning of the work. Bernard Baffour presented on SPARSE. He introduced the project and talked about two supporting projects that are in progress while the application for Datalab access progresses. First, he spoke about the mapping of small areas estimates based on the Australian Early Development Index (work led by Mu Li and published in June 2020. Then he spoke about mapping chronic under-nutrition in Bangladesh across 22 years, 64 districts and yearly ages from 0 to 5 (work led by Sumon Das).

April 25, 2021

We were very saddened to hear over the Anzac weekend of the death from COVID-19 of Dr Hukum Chandra, Principal Scientist at the Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute in New Delhi, India. He completed his PhD in Social Statistics at the University of Southampton and his post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Wollongong, Australia. Dr Chandra has made outstanding research contributions to the discipline of statistics in general and survey sampling, in particular, for which he has been recognised globally. His research interests are in survey sampling design and analysis, small area estimation, bootstrap methods, statistical modelling and data analysis, and statistical methodological development in the area of agricultural statistics. He has received a number of awards for his excellent research contribution, such as the National Award in Statistics by the Indian Government’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the Cochran-Hansen Award by the International Association of Survey Statisticians for his PhD thesis, and the Young Researcher/Student Award of the American Statistical Association. He is a council member of the International Association of Survey Statisticians and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute (ISI).

Hukum visited Canberra in December 2019 just after the awarding of this grant, funded by a Cross-College Research Grant from the Research School of Social Sciences at ANU. We were looking forward to welcoming him again to a SPARSE symposium in mid-2022. Our thoughts are with his wife and children.

February 17-19, 2021

The Spatial and Temporal Statistics Symposium took place online, organised by students and staff at the University of Wollongong. Speakers included SPARSE team members Susanna Cramb and Petra Kuhnert. Susanna spoke on “TIPS (Ten Incorrect Pithy Statements) for Disease Mapping” and Petra spoke on “Reimagining science, the hybrid connection”.

September 17, 2020

School of Demography Work-in-Progress seminars. Mu Li presented his current PhD work on the SEIFA index. Contact Bernard Baffour for details (email

February 6, 2020

Alice Richardson attended the symposium “Advances in Statistical Methodology” to celebrate the career of Professor Ray Chambers. The one-day event took place at the University of Wollongong. Attendees included a number of key researchers in small area estimation, including Professor Nikos Tzavidis.

December 3 – 4, 2019

Bernard Baffour and Alice Richardson hosted a short visit to ANU by Dr Hukum Chandra. The visit was funded by a Research School of Social Sciences Cross-College Collaboration grant. Hukum presented a School of Demography seminar titled “Small area estimation of prevalence of diarrhoea among under-five children in Bangladesh by combining health survey and census data”. He also participated in a drop-in session with quantitative researchers in the Research School of Population Health, and visited the National Office of the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Canberra. Hukum, Alice and Bernard met with a range of interested groups within ABS including Ian Rayson, SPARSE Associate Investigator from the ABS Health Statistics area.