Design

This section sets out initial thinking for the design of Scotland’s Census 2021. The design draws on our experiences from previous censuses - particularly the last census in 2011 - as well as consideration of the opportunities and challenges presented by technological and societal changes. These have all shaped the scope, main objectives and design of the 2021 Census as well as help us consider what changes are required since the last census. 

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Further information on designing the questionnaire, ensuring inclusion, supporting information, stakeholder engagement, plans for publicising the census and more can be found on the Key elements of the design section.

Objectives & key assumptions

The programme has set the following high-level objectives:

  • produce high-quality census outputs that meet user needs
  • maximise overall response
  • produce timely outputs to maximise benefits
  • protect, and be seen to protect, confidential information
  • do so in a cost effective way
  • make recommendations for the approach to future censuses in Scotland

Key assumptions

The key assumptions for the 2021 Census design are:

  • the census will be carried out primarily online
  • for those living in private households, the census will target enumeration at household level, with individuals responding within those households
  • there will be post out of Internet Access Codes (IACs) to all private households
  • an address list of suitably high quality will support post out
  • there will be targeted follow up of non-responding households using administrative and other data
  • all non-responding households will receive at least one follow up visit to ensure status of vacant/derelict dwellings can be assessed

 Shaping the high-level design

The initial high-level design for a 2021 Census is shaped by:

  • the successes of and lessons learned from the 2011 Census
  • developments and lessons learned in international census taking
  • requirements from the user community about the types, quality, frequency and detail of outputs required
  • changes in technology, in particular the opportunities and challenges offered by the internet, and changes in the willingness of the public to use technology in order to interact with government
  • improvements in administrative data sources (such as the NHS Central Register) and the potential for linking administrative data with census data, giving potential for increased use in the production of statistics
  • information and evidence gained through the carrying out of various Impact Assessments

The census design will develop as the different design elements are researched and tested. Elements will be tested independently and in relation to other components and processes. We will also assess and implement appropriate new opportunities as they emerge.

Design principles

We have identified design principles that will guide the development and implementation of the design for 2021. These include:

  • employing operational and statistical methods to deliver the highest quality population estimates by age and sex at local authority level
  • utilising the elements of the 2011 Census that worked well and are still relevant
  • embracing new technologies and methods where appropriate
  • designing for online first, including a range of device formats, and making it as easy as possible for the public to respond
  • seeking to minimise the respondent burden on the public
  • testing the census design iteratively to assure us, and stakeholders, of the underlying system, processes, and security of the overall design
  • attempting to get a response from every person and household in Scotland
  • maximising appropriate use of administrative data in all areas of the operation & processing
  • estimating and adjusting the results to account for over and under enumeration as in the previous two censuses
  • producing a complete, consistent and protected dataset which has been adjusted for over and under enumeration to allow production of outputs
  • making the first results available more quickly than results from the 2011 Census and completing the full suite of outputs (still to be defined) more quickly as well

Main areas of change between the 2011 and the 2021 Census

The Scotland’s Census 2011 General Report details how we undertook the 2011 Census. Scotland’s Census 2021 builds upon our experience in delivering that census but there will be some significant changes for 2021.

The main changes for Scotland’s Census 2021 include:

  • it will be carried out primarily online
  • most households will receive an internet access code via the post; there will be very limited hand-delivery of materials by census staff
  • there will be targeted follow-up of non-responding households
  • outputs will be provided in a more flexible way