Publication - Consultation paper

Scotland's Census 2021 Topic Consultation

Published: 8 Oct 2015
Part of:

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.

40 page PDF

761.7 kB

40 page PDF

761.7 kB

Scotland's Census 2021 Topic Consultation
2. Census Design and other processes

40 page PDF

761.7 kB

2. Census Design and other processes

2.1 Census Design

In March 2014, National Records of Scotland announced that it would focus on planning for a census in 2021. That planning has begun and Scotland's Census 2021 will be conducted primarily online, while offering alternative routes for completion where necessary. It will aim to make best use of technology, digital services and administrative data.

Its design will build on the successes of, and utilise many design aspects from 2011, when the opportunity to complete your census online was offered for the first time. The most significant change is that digital will be the primary method of data collection (as compared with paper previously), with the majority of respondents expected to complete their census questionnaire online.

The design for Scotland's Census 2021 is currently being progressed by NRS. High-level principles that will guide its development have been identified including:

  • Designing questions for the online environment first, including a range of device formats, to make it as easy as possible for the public to respond
  • Embracing new technologies and methods, where appropriate
  • Utilising elements of the 2011 Census that worked well and are still relevant
  • Testing the census design iteratively to assure us and stakeholders of the underlying system, processes, and security of the overall design
  • Using estimation and adjustment to account for over and under enumeration, as has been done in the previous two censuses
  • Making the first results available more quickly than results from the 2011 Census.
  • Ensuring delivery of a safe, secure, easy-to-use online data collection environment, building on the success of 2011

Completing the census online offers a number of advantages for data collection and for respondents. These will be maximised in 2021, with the aim of improving data quality and hence accuracy of results, and improving respondent experience by reducing unnecessary burden. The associated reduction in data cleaning and processing required also offers operational advantages to NRS.

Some advantageous features of online data collection are listed here:

  • Digital data entry - no poor/illegible handwriting to be interpreted by scanning system or operator
  • Automatic routing through the questionnaire.
    Assuming filter questions are answered correctly, questions that are not relevant to an individual are never presented to them
  • Control over whether people give a single or multiple response to a question
  • Control over the format of responses - numeric, character or date format
  • No need to provide duplicate information.
    The responses to any questions asking for information already supplied are pre-populated (e.g. names)
  • Review pages
    Giving respondents the chance to check the information they have provided reduces the likelihood of incorrect responses being submitted in error.
  • Validation checks
    Real-time checks to validate the responses provided. When certain conditions are met, a user is required to confirm or correct data they enter e.g. a date out-with a specified range

NRS will undertake research to understand any potentially negative implications resulting from the move to a predominantly online Census, to ensure that a robust design is developed. The results from that research will contribute to decisions on the scope of changes to questions, and therefore outputs. All relevant impact assessments will be carried out by NRS and published in due course.

2.2 Dissemination, disclosure control and geography

The 2011 Census provided more data than ever before, with data available at 16 different levels of geography, and also planned for alternative populations. Users were also given the ability to create bespoke geographies specific to their requirements. This consultation is seeking views on information requirements from the 2021 Census, and is not consulting on the formats in which the data will be available, or the ways in which the data will be accessed. Consultation on these issues and others will be carried out at appropriate times in the coming years. Details of consultations and other engagement activities to be undertaken for 2021 will be available on the Scotland's Census website in due course.


Email: Cecilia MacIntyre