The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) has a range of assurance mechanisms in place to underpin the successful delivery of Census 2021.
There is a joint working arrangement with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), managed through a Memorandum of Understanding, which sets out the elements of Census 2021 that are provided or procured by ONS for access by NISRA, for example, systems and services to support questionnaire design, delivery (online or paper) and collection. NISRA engages with and benefits from the comprehensive governance arrangements relevant to the joint elements that are implemented by ONS.
Other elements of Census 2021 are solely NISRA’s responsibility and managed locally, for example, Address Register development, field staff recruitment and stakeholder engagement. There are three levels of governance in place, broadly classed as:
- Internal oversight
- External assurance (NI Civil Service)
- Formal external assurance
The Census Office Senior Management Team (SMT) manage the short-term business and planning for Census 2021. Above this, the Census Oversight Board (COB), chaired by the Director of Census and Population Statistics and attended by SMT, meets monthly to consider operational, statistical and project management issues. The Board also review the Census risk register and issues log, project timeline, finance and staffing.
External assurance (NI Civil Service)
Expert users of census information and specialists from other parts of the NI Civil Service (NICS) provide further assurance via the Census Assurance Panel. The panel provides advice and guidance to Census Office in key areas such as human resources, finance and procurement.
Formal external assurance
The Demographic Statistics Advisory Group made up of census users and experts from academia and business have a formal advisory role in the content and delivery of the census in Northern Ireland. The group meets every six to nine months, and the meeting minutes are published.
The Office for Statistics Regulation, the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), is carrying out a wide-ranging assessment of 2021 censuses across the three UK census offices. This concerns re-accreditation of the censuses with regard to National Statistics status. The phases of the process cover planning and consultation, outputs dissemination and, ultimately, an assessment of user needs versus output, post-publication. This process will likely result in recommendations by the UKSA and will provide external assurance that NISRA is complying with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.
The UK Census Committee (UKCC) provides a UK-wide governance facility, which NISRA participates in. As part of its role, UKCC reviews risks and implications arising from the Census 2021 programme of work, while it provides assurance that Census 2021 plans across the UK comply with legislative requirements.
In October 2019, NISRA carried out a census rehearsal to ensure that all of the key processes, systems and services are effective and working as they should before Census 2021. A formal evaluation of the rehearsal was published in August 2020.
Census assurance in other parts of the UK
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the National Records of Scotland (NRS) provide information on assurance mechanisms for Census 2021 in England and Wales and Census 2022 in Scotland, respectively.