Assurance mechanisms for the 2021 Census Programme

The Census Programme practices an integrated approach to assuring our work based on the “three lines of defence” model. In this model, the Programme employs different sets of activities at each of the three levels in a way that is designed to be proportionate and collaborative, to assure our outputs against the quality criteria we have agreed.

  • First line: comprised of day-to-day management controls and working practices (e.g. weekly highlight reports for all parts of the Census Programme, reporting progress, issues, and risks);
  • Second line: internal assurance provided by the Census Programme Management Office (PMO) and equivalent roles in each of our key Suppliers’ organisations. These take the form of ‘stage gates’ to control the progress of projects from one phase to another, and periodic reviews of project management disciplines; and
  • Third line: external assurance, which in the case of the Census Programme is provided by the Scottish Government (incl. Internal Audit and OGC GatewayTM) and the Office for Statistics Regulation. In addition, ad-hoc assurance may be sought (e.g. Audit Scotland, or Independent Information Assurance). Our third lines of assurance are fully independent of the Census Programme and comply with the Scottish Public Finance Manual’s guidance for Major Investment Projects.

Assurance activity is informed at all levels by risk management, to focus efforts on areas of highest-risk, and to support key decisions and approvals. In order to maximise the investment of specialist assurance resource, and to minimise the impact on the teams delivering the census, we seek to integrate assurance activities where appropriate to do so. This is accomplished through the development of an Integration Assurance and Approvals Plan (IAAP) which is used to schedule all assurance activity across the three levels. 

Lastly, the Census Programme is taking a structured approach to improving the quality of our work prior to the census in 2021. A formal evaluation of the 2019 rehearsal is being undertaken to identify areas for improvement. In addition to this, our teams record ‘lessons learned’ as they go, looking for opportunities for improvements which will ultimately help us achieve our Census Programme objectives.