Dear David

Assessment of 2021 Censuses in the UK –  Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) Response to Preliminary Findings

We have reviewed the actions that NISRA has taken to address the findings in Assessment Report 345: 2021 Censuses in the UK – Preliminary Findings. These findings aim to build on the existing work being undertaken by Census offices, providing further direction and focus on pre-existing plans.

The Office for Statistics Regulation’s (OSR’s) advice on the National Statistics designation will be based on the trustworthiness, quality and value secured by Census offices. That advice will take account of the actions taken to address findings or requirements from OSR as part of this assessment process. While many of the Phase 1 findings can only be fully actioned or addressed over longer timescales, it is my view that NISRA has responded well to the assessment findings so far. I recognise the ongoing commitment of NISRA’s Census team to enhance the public value, quality and trustworthiness of the data and statistics from Northern Ireland’s Census – particularly in light of the challenges and changes in ways of working that have had to be managed given the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since we published our assessment report in October 2019, my team has engaged with various members of your staff working on the Census to understand the improvements you have made since then. I appreciate the team’s willingness to engage with the assessment team and the work that has gone into making further improvements. In evaluating how NISRA has responded to our findings we have taken account of published materials from NISRA including the evidence report NISRA response to OSR findings from Phase 1 of Census 2021 National Statistics assessment, alongside information gathered through meetings and workshops held with your team. I consider that some actions taken by NISRA are of note.

  • In considering our findings, NISRA has actively improved its website and has added more content for users. In particular, the steps the Census team has taken to implement a clearer structure have been successful and the structure now lends itself to accommodate new and future published content.
  • My team held a data sources session with NISRA’s Census team in March 2020, and in this session the team clearly demonstrated a strong understanding of the strengths and limitations of each of its data sources, and of the quality assurance processes for each source. My assessment team welcomes the openness of the Census team in NISRA to discuss and answer our questions on their use of administrative data.

We consider that further action is still needed in some areas identified for improvement in our assessment report – this is partly due to changing circumstances such as the impacts on programme delivery given the pandemic. For example, while the assessment team felt reassured by NISRA’s approaches to the use of administrative data through the session in March, currently there is little information available in the public domain. We also note that NISRA is still refining and developing a quality strategy and its methods following its Census rehearsal. It is important that NISRA provide users and stakeholders with information on its use of administrative data, Census methods and on its quality assurance arrangements. NISRA should consider what existing materials or provisional information could be made public on its plans and processes to ensure Northern Ireland’s Census data will be of sufficient quality. This information can be built on as your research and understanding continues to develop.

In the assessment report we highlighted the need to be clear to users on the impacts of country-specific decision making on UK Census data and statistics. Due to the decision by Scottish Ministers to delay the Census in Scotland, it is even more important NISRA work with the other Census offices to explain the impacts of this to UK Census data users.

From speaking with your team, it is clear NISRA recognises the importance of communicating to Northern Ireland Census data users about delivering its Census in 2021 and on its scheduled plans for Census outputs. Users should be kept up to date and be provided with further detail as more information on the timing and content of statistical outputs becomes available.

We have included more detail about our judgement in an annex (see PDF download) to this letter. I, or my team, would be happy to talk you or your colleagues through any aspects of this letter or Code compliance more generally.

I am copying this letter to Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician and Siobhan Carey, Chief Executive and Registrar General for Northern Ireland.

Yours sincerely
Ed Humpherson
Director General for Regulation