Census 2022 – contract management

February 28, 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 fifth 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 dedicated Contract Management function, working closely with NRS procurement colleagues, was set up during the Census programme to conduct all commercial  contract  management activities. The team maintained a forecast of spend against actuals, understanding variance in spend for all contracts and escalating via appropriate governance boards and finance colleagues for transparency and visibility of impact on budgets. It also managed supplier relationships, and worked with stakeholders across the programme to ensure suppliers delivered quality goods and services at the right time and right price and any proposed change to delivery was priced, remained within budget tolerance, approved and formally signed off as a contract change, thus ensuring accountability for delivery within agreed budget across Scotland’s Census programme.

The Contract Management team faced a number of challenges, including a large volume of contract change and a complex commercial forecast for multiple suppliers who were integral to the success and delivery of each other and the programme. This required close management of  commercial and contractual change, ensuring visibility and impact understood by co-dependent suppliers in a timely manner. Staff turnover also required the contract management function to ensure new colleagues were fully aware of contract and commercial management arrangements.

Key activities

  • The procurement strategy for the Census meant that NRS would fill the role of Service Integrator. This required a level of commercial and contract management that NRS did not hold for business as usual activity and needed specialist resource and additional capacity to be recruited.
  • Over the course of the programme, a high volume of change was required. The team supported the Census programme to consider if change was needed, define their requirements, consider the impact on other supplier delivery plans, obtain price and assure accuracy, give commercial approval and draft contract change documents to obtain approval to implement. Contract changes were managed, often to very tight deadlines, to ensure appropriate governance requirements were being fulfilled. The expertise of the team enabled the cost of change to be effectively managed, focusing on what was really required to ensure VFM and that the supplier was not pricing for contingency that was not necessarily required.
  • The team provided challenge to ensure the robustness of the information on the cost of change and helped inform financial forecasting and control on the programme. This was critical throughout for change and cost control and building a robust governance culture but particularly important during replanning.
  • Where urgent change was required, the team developed the necessary communication structures involving subject matter experts across NRS, Census operations, senior decision-makers and suppliers. To support the implementation of urgent changes at pace, the team also introduced work arounds (e.g. Letters of Intent) to de-risk services and provide assurance to suppliers.
  • The Census Contract Management team worked closely with all key suppliers, acting as a conduit with programme leadership and supporting constructive relationships to ensure that milestones could be met and change implemented successfully. The team found that an in-depth awareness of suppliers’ operating context (e.g. whether they had a sub-contractor network supporting contract delivery) was a crucial foundation for these relationships.
  • Following the delivery of Census Collect, the team conducted a comprehensive lessons learned phase including an introspective review (discussing what worked well and what could be improved), a supplier questionnaire (capturing their experience of contract management, the census and NRS general) and brief interviews with each supplier. These detailed lessons learned, as well as specific recommendations for the organisation and future programmes, are captured in a Project Evaluation and Closure Report which will feed into NRS’ wider Census lessons learned exercise.

Reflections and learning points

  1. Consider what dedicated commercial and contract management expertise is needed both at an organisational level and within your specific programme. Depending on the complexity of your programme, consider setting up a programme-specific contract management function to support supplier management from the very start. Give thought to how the cutover manager or lead operational role in delivery works with the commercial team, working across strategic integrator requirements. Make sure this capacity and capability is in place from the outset.
  2. Take into consideration your suppliers’ operating context, risks, and how change and operational practice affects them. Suppliers may have their own sub-contractor network and therefore have different degrees of flexibility around deadlines and change.
  3. The Census had a large number of suppliers to manage who each brought their own expertise and were responsible for the delivery of specific components. You need sound foundations for effective supplier management, especially where the integration of different components is required – a clear programme plan, good communication, information sharing and sound collaborative working. This approach will allow you to fully benefit from the expertise suppliers bring.
  4. Ensure that your project and programme teams, working with suppliers, have appropriate levels of commercial awareness to maximise the value that can be drawn from contracts. It is key that staff understand what is within the agreed contract and where their actions may incur additional expense. Agile digital approaches need to be effectively integrated with procurement and governance processes in order to effectively manage changes to contracts and support suppliers to implement these.
  5. There is value in sharing knowledge and experience with other professionals. NRS is part of the Government Commercial Function.
  6. When recording lessons learned, make them as specific as possible and record actionable recommendations. Ensure that these are reported on and distributed to key stakeholders to ensure implementation.

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

The Social Security Programme have developed a case study covering ‘Leadership in Agile Service Delivery’, part of which considers contract management and supplier relations from the Service Manager’s perspective. Contact the Our Story team to find how to access this case study.

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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