Census 2022 – procurement

February 21, 2024 by No Comments | Category Digital Assurance Office, Digital Scotland, Technology Assurance Framework

Guest blog by Berit Braun, Continuous Improvement team, Digital Assurance Office.

The Digital Assurance Office have been working with the National Records of Scotland (NRS) to capture and share some of their experiences from the delivery of the Census Programme. This is the fourth in a series of case studies. You can read the earlier case studies, and our other insights, on our blog.

For over 200 years, Scotland has relied on the 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 NRS.


A diverse range of specialist digital services were required to deliver the Census, including a data collection operation management system and online collection instrument. NRS retained the Service Integration and Management role, procuring and establishing contractual relationships with each supplier individually. 

Key activities

  • Compiling high quality specifications for procurements required different functions across the organisation to work together closely. NRS has an inhouse procurement team who worked to ensure procurement and commercial aspects were covered in specification development for all contracts.
  • NRS was able to utilise collaborative contracts set up by Scottish Government, Crown Commercial Services and other public bodies for some of the key services needed to deliver the Census, which allowed for some time and resource efficiencies within the procurement process.
  • To support decision-making, the Census Programme set up a bespoke governance forum, the Procurement Assurance Group. This group supported accountability and assurance for procurement decisions while providing a clear link to budget oversight. It consisted of six voting members with additional non-voting members fulfilling an advisory role. The Group’s role was to scrutinise and provide sign-off on commodity strategies and recommendation reports to the Senior Responsible Owner and wider governance for new contracts and change requests for existing contracts. This approach to having a separate dedicated governance space proved effective for the Census, and NRS has built on this learning in setting up its Digital and Strategy Board. This board now plays a key role in scrutinising and approving investment decisions related to strategic ambitions, digital change and new service design.

Reflections and learning points

  1. Don’t underestimate the resource implications of being an “intelligent customer” when delivering a project with externally procured digital components, particularly where these are more complex. It is important to have a clear end to end service design and architectural design at an early stage to enable the programme to set requirements and understand the scope of the service integrator. The programme is responsible for surfacing the requirements for the specification.
  2. Procurement outcomes can be improved with high quality programme and project planning and early engagement with procurement specialists which provides adequate time for key steps e.g. procurement options appraisal.
  3. Work closely with procurement, digital and other subject matter experts from the very start. You need to have a holistic view of the service to develop an overall commercial strategy, business case and later individual commodity strategies for the required procurements,  specifications and contracts, that support the effective delivery of the project or programme. Understand the implications of strategic operational decisions and resource them appropriately having considered the various procurement options.
  4. Be as specific as possible in your specifications and set out requirements with a clear focus on outcomes. While changes to contracts are crucial to support unforeseen circumstances, they tend to be costly and resource intensive. Involve the relevant Subject Matter Experts as early as possible to support and allow for sufficient time to consider and implement their insights in the specifications.
  5. Using Public Sector Frameworks or Collaborative Contracts allows you to build on what is already in place and create efficiencies. However, make sure you understand whether all your requirements are within scope of the specific collaborative contract and lot (procurement can advise).
  6. Be mindful of your programme’s needs around documentation, assurance and accountability and set up procurement decision making processes that are directly proportionate to those needs. Clarity of process for both senior leadership and programme staff is key to ensure success.
  7. Develop effective collaborative working relationships with your suppliers from the start. Ensure your contracts are in place early enough and are outputs focused, providing rigour and accountability to support clarity of roles and responsibilities.
  8. Different professions involved in project delivery have different approaches, cultures and work to different standards and procedures. The leadership team is critical in establishing ways of working that support cooperation and collaboration across functions.

Find out more

The Technology Assurance Framework (TAF) 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 (DAO) are working with organisations who have had assurance through the TAF to share insights which might help others deliver digital projects. A recent insights blog from the DAO on effective procurement and contract management considers common recommendations for major digital projects that were reviewed under the TAF. 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 advice and signposting on available digital commercial expertise, resources and support in the Scottish Government, visit the Digital Commercial Service on the Digital Support Hub.

The Procurement Journey website is the main source of procurement best practice guidance for the Scottish public sector. The Scottish procurement: policy manual provides guidance on the procurement policies that apply to the Scottish Government as well as guidance on Contract and Supplier Management (CSM).

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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