Census 2022 – Approach to Integrated Assurance

January 31, 2024 by No Comments | Category Digital Assurance Office, Digital Scotland, Technology Assurance Framework

Guest blog by Laura Johnstone, Continuous Improvement team, Digital Assurance Office.

The Technology Assurance Framework (TAF) was introduced to support digital programmes and projects to deliver successful outcomes.  The Framework is intended to improve delivery and ensure that the lessons learned from previous experience are reflected and embedded in future practice.  The Digital Assurance Office are working with organisations who have had assurance through the TAF to share their experiences, which might help others deliver digital projects. 

We have been working with the National Records of Scotland to capture and share some of their experiences from the delivery of the Census Programme.  This is the first in a series of case studies.  You can read about our other insights on our blog.

For over 200 years Scotland has relied on a ten year Census to underpin national and local decision making. The 2022 Census was the first predominantly digital Census collection. The Census is a long term programme and is undertaken by the National Records of Scotland.


The Census programme has had a range of independent assurance. This included:

  • Programme level assurance through Gateway review that focused on, for example, the programme business case, programme management arrangements;
  • Technology Assurance Framework Major Digital Project reviews and Digital First Service Standard Assessments. Major Digital Project reviews focused on, for example, the project structure, contracting and procurement strategy. Digital First Service Standard Assessments considered compliance against the Standard which aims to ensure continuous improvement and user focus;
  • Independent Information Assurance Review to support the delivery of a secure Census;
  • Ensuring the statistics produced are trustworthy, high quality and of public value through National Statistics Accreditation.

National Records of Scotland also secured Digital Economy Act Accreditation, demonstrating that they have the right systems, controls and capability to act as data processor.

The programme has worked hard to effectively manage these assurance activities to support effective delivery.

Key Activities

  • Early dialogue with the Scottish Government Internal Audit and Assurance Directorate mapped out assurance requirements, identified potential overlaps and tailored audit and assurance interventions to meet requirements in a joined up way. The programme Integrated Assurance and Approval Plan (IAAP) timeline demonstrated the assurance undertaken and planned.
  • Assurance was integrated into the operation of the programme and was a key tool for programme level decision making.  Recommendations and action plans from assurance reviews were routinely tabled at key governance forums to keep actions and upcoming reviews visible at a strategic level.  Although assurance was planned out in the IAAP it was live and dynamic and changed as required, for example to provide additional assurance around strategic decision making.
  • A Census Assurance Forum was established. A shared forum for Census programme staff and Scottish Government Internal Audit and Assurance it made recommendations into programme governance board(s) looking ahead on what was needed and scheduling. It ensured an ongoing focus on actions. The forum helped everyone to understand and agree the purpose of each assurance activity and the evidence needed for it. This guided projects in advance of reviews and the programme approach taken to programme/project documentation.
  • To raise awareness and influence attitudes to assurance the Programme Management Office ran awareness sessions to update on outcomes of reviews and future assurance plans. The aim was to create a culture where assurance was embraced and seen to add value to programme delivery.
  • The programme secured an Independent Assurance Advisor who had experience as a major project reviewer. This enabled assurance requirements and benefits to be promoted as well as supporting the Census to effectively prepare for and respond to reviews.

Reflections and learning points

  1. Assurance reviews provided strong evidence on the health of the programme to a range of internal and external stakeholders. This included Strategic Board and Non Executive Directors as well as External Audit and the Public Audit Committee.
  2. The more you put into assurance and value the opportunity it provides for insight and learning, the more you get from it. As the programme matured so did the approach to assurance. The programme became better at shaping the ask from the review team to provide the SRO with the information they needed at the time.  
  3. Work closely with the Digital Assurance Office (who manage the Technology Assurance Framework) to shape the review to what you need. Plotting out what is needed and when helps maximise the value from assurance in a time pressured programme.
  4. Where the size of a programme warrants it, consider putting in place an assurance forum. Effectively planning for and responding to external assurance does take time and needs to be integrated with overall programme resource planning. The rigours of doing this work provides a strong audit trail for programme delivery and health through the programme lifecycle.
  5. Layering assurance activity alongside programme milestones is critical. Considering what the programme needs to know at what point shapes decision making on review coverage.
  6. Use the Major Digital Projects Gate Checklists as a tool for what good looks like. Work with the Digital Assurance Office to understand what a review will cover and use that knowledge to prepare –  from the beginning – documentation to evidence Gate requirements.

Find out more

The Technology Assurance Framework is designed to support programmes and projects to deliver successful outcomes and ensure that the lessons learned from previous experience are reflected and embedded in future practice.

The Digital Assurance Office are working with organisations who have had assurance through the TAF to share insights which might help others deliver digital projects.  If you want to get involved – or have thoughts on what insights would be helpful to share – contact us at

For more information about this case study contact

For further information and signposting to advice and support on programme and project management contact the Programme and Project Management Centre for Expertise.

The Scottish Government programme and project management principles are available and apply to any project of any size.

For advice on designing and delivering high quality digital services visit Scottish Government Digital Support Hub (DSH)

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