Scotland's Census 2021 Topic Consultation

National Records of Scotland is planning for Scotland’s Census 2021. A lot can change in the 10 years between censuses. To help inform our planning, this consultation will seek information from users about their needs. This will help determine the topics to be included in the next census.

1. Introduction

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) on behalf of the Registrar General for Scotland, is responsible for conducting a census in Scotland. Planning has begun for Scotland's Census 2021 and will build on the success of the census in 2011. It will be designed and managed in Scotland, to best meet the needs of its users. NRS wants to hear from our users to learn and understand those needs and that is the main aim of this consultation.

The census is just one part of a much wider statistical system. Collecting information through a census represents a significant investment and places a legal obligation on households and individuals in Scotland to provide personal information. It is only appropriate when a census is the most effective way to collect information to meet a strong user requirement that cannot be met by other means, and the associated benefit outweighs the cost of collection.

1.1 Understanding requirements for Census 2021

This consultation is our first step towards understanding what is needed from the census and your involvement and response is important. In some instances there will be other sources for the information you need and your responses will help us assess whether the census is the best way to meet that need.

We aim to maintain or improve the quality of the data, provide comparability where users tell us it is important and deliver information that is relevant to the needs of our users in 2021. We want you to use census data because accurate data helps make better decisions that benefit us all.

This paper provides the initial view from NRS on the topics currently under consideration for collection in the 2021 Census in Scotland. This view is informed by evaluation of the success of the 2011 topics and questions (including evidence from research and previous censuses), user requirements from the Beyond 2011 consultation carried out in 2013 and feedback from the Scotland's Census 2011 User Satisfaction Survey undertaken earlier this year.

This is only an initial view and the aim of the consultation is to encourage discussion and help us build strong cases and justify the inclusion of topics in the 2021 Census. The focus of this paper is on information required at topic-level, not the detailed questions that should be asked on the questionnaire. The detail of the content of the questionnaires will only be finalised after a comprehensive programme of research, testing and further discussions with users. The plans for this programme are currently being developed and will be published on Scotland's Census website in due course.

1.2 Changes to census content - 2011 and 2021

The topics and questions for the 2011 Census underwent comprehensive review, to ensure they were fit-for-purpose and relevant to user needs. As a result, new questions were asked about:

  • long-term health conditions
  • language (two new questions)
  • national identity
  • date of arrival in the UK

Other notable changes included substantial revisions to the question on ethnic group, following a review conducted in partnership with the Scottish Government. The existing question on Gaelic ability was expanded to also ask about abilities in English and Scots. Most of the 2011 questions worked well. For further information on data quality see Annex 1; this contains information on item non-response rates and gross agreement rates from the NRS 2011 Census Quality Survey (CQS)[1].

Given these significant additions and revisions, we think that the overall length of about 35 questions per person is near the limit of acceptable burden to the public and it is important to recognise that constraints on the length of the questionnaire will remain. New topics may be considered for 2021 if the criteria for inclusion are met, although this may mean that trade-offs are required.

Changes to the content of the questionnaire will be considered to address:

  • where questions didn't work well in 2011, particularly where there were issues with data quality and/or they didn't support users' requirements for outputs.
  • new or emerging policy requirements that cannot be addressed through the use of alternative sources.
  • changes in international guidelines (e.g. around the labour market topic) and in legislation.

Consultation on the content of previous censuses resulted in demand for more census topics than it was possible to accommodate. In order to contribute to a transparent process for determining the content of the 2021 Census questionnaires and so that users have a clear view of the constraints and trade-offs involved, the criteria against which cases for topics will be assessed are included in section five of this document, for information.

As in previous censuses, there will be separate censuses in England & Wales and Northern Ireland and the three census offices will work together to develop a set of questions that, wherever possible and necessary, deliver harmonised outputs across the UK.

Responding to the consultation

The best way to respond to this consultation is online.

You can provide a response to all topics, or just to the individual topic(s) that are relevant to you. However, please answer ALL questions for each topic that you choose to respond to.

This will help us fully understand your requirements. There are different questions for topics which have not previously been included in Scotland's Census.

If you wish to respond to this consultation via email or on paper, please download a Consultation Response Form from the Scotland's Census website.

When completed, please send to one of the following:



Scotland's Census 2021 Topic Consultation
Ladywell House
Ladywell Road
EH12 7TF

Responses to this consultation paper are invited until midnight 15 January 2016.

To support transparency in our decision making process, and unless you ask us otherwise, responses to this consultation will be made public and attributed to you. This will include the name of the responding organisation or individual. In responding, you will be asked to confirm that you are content for your name to be published. We will not publish personal contact details.

(Please also be aware that any information provided in response to this consultation could be made publicly available if requested under a Freedom of Information request.)


Email: Cecilia MacIntyre

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