Census 2022 – resourcing

March 13, 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 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 seventh 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 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 is a complex, long term programme that seeks to collect data on all of Scotland’s population. In order to maximise response, the census data collection needed to be usable, accessible, universally available through multiple channels – and ensure that where there may be barriers to digital participation, citizens had alternative mechanisms to participate, engage and seek help and support.

Throughout the programme lifecycle, securing appropriately skilled resource to design and deliver the Census was an ongoing challenge. National Records of Scotland (NRS) does not retain a core Census team, instead it is built as NRS progresses through the programme. Skills that were particularly hard to source and retain included service design, understanding of digital standards and project management.  A variety of routes were followed to secure resources which, once in place, required careful and ongoing investment to create an effective team culture. It was an issue that was regularly identified during assurance reviews and recorded in the NRS risk and issues management processes.

Key Activities

  • The programme undertook a number of formal resource reviews, alongside regular forecasting and planning. The approach taken was to ensure that delivery planning and resource management worked in tandem – providing clear links between what the programme needed to deliver and the resource required, alongside a recommended route for securing that resource. This process was applied continuously on a case by case basis but also in 3 formal root and branch reviews where resource assumptions were challenged against an evolving delivery plan.  This enabled risks such as single points of failure to be identified and to apply mitigations to support delivery.
  • External factors such as EU Exit and COVID severely impacted NRS’ ability to recruit at scale and/or pace. For scarce skills, in much demand across the public and private sectors, this led to more reliance on external and partner contracts than originally anticipated.
  • The programme resourcing strategy identified a number of different routes to secure resource e.g. permanent recruitment, fixed term appointments, interim managers, drawing down on existing supplier contracts and frameworks and partner contracts. The approach taken to resourcing evolved over time and included procuring partner contracts for service design and project management, which enabled an outcomes based approach to specifying requirements.  The range of resources brought into the programme meant different cultural behaviours, requiring investment to manage and create a one team culture and approach.
  • Work has been undertaken to upskill permanent staff during the programme, and to develop the skills of the permanent workforce. Internal legacy benefit workshops will ratify the capability that has been built with the aim of identifying where that capability has/can be applied to support successful delivery of NRS portfolio of programmes/projects and also across Business As Usual e.g. creating internal subject matter advisors, standardised governance processes and controls.  Steps have also been taken to increase knowledge retention through exit discussions, documentation and handovers.

Reflections and Learning Points

  1. The Census is a complex and multidisciplinary programme. Appropriate layers of leadership that work effectively together are critical for success.  Cascading from the Chief Executive and organisational Directors, clear and proportionate decision making governance needs to be in place, supported by project and programme management.
  2. The end to end resourcing requirements for a programme have to be considered realistically from the outset.  This includes the leadership resource required and explicit consideration of how the programme fits within the existing organisation and its governance structures.
  3. Ensuring that a multidisciplinary team is not just in place but also works effectively across different disciplines and teams requires investment of time, but leads to more robust decision-making. Leaders have a central role to play in ensuring that there is a shared understanding of what success looks like and acknowledges the diverse professions that are needed for successful programme delivery.
  4. To make informed decisions on the approach to secure resource it is important to understand the pros and cons of the different resourcing routes set out above  (including cost implications) and have a clear understanding of the resourcing requirements across the programme lifecycle, including the skills that are hard to reach.   Against this consider the mix of permanent, temporary and partner contract resourcing that could meet your programme requirements.  A mix of resourcing approaches requires investment to support an effective team culture.
  5. A digital programme requires specialist skills at different stages in its lifecycle. Resourcing requirements will change through the lifecycle and actively planning for this, informing budget requirements is critical. In many cases it won’t be practical or desirable to deliver digital components in-house, but it is critical there is adequate in-house capability to act as an intelligent client and ensure that the Digital Scotland Service Standard is embedded from the outset. 
  6. It is crucial for projects and programmes to have a robust understanding of the specific requirements for public sector digital delivery including governance, accountability and standards. For complex programmes like the Census there is a need for project/programme managers to have a robust understanding and experience of different PM methodologies and how these can intersect, overlap or alternate to deliver effective outcomes

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

The Scottish Digital Academy ( is the public sector centre of expertise for digital capability and can provide information, advice and guidance on developing digital, data and technology skills to support transformation.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.

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