2021 Census – Help us design the outputs

As ONS continues to develop its recommendations for questions in the 2021 Census, work has also started on how best to present the answers. As a national consultation exercise gets under way,  Suzanne Dunsmith explains why everyone with an interest in 2021 data needs to take part. 

The census is vital for shaping policy that will determine the country’s future and for ensuring that decision-makers have access to the right information to plan and deliver key services. It underpins local and national decisions on the provision of education, healthcare and housing. For the 2021 Census, it’s important the census results highlight long-term trends, but also reflect the society we live in today.

We’re asking users to take part in the consultation so we can get a better understanding of what’s needed from the 2021 Census outputs. It’s important users respond, as their feedback will help us to prioritise our future research and development of the outputs. It’ll also inform the order in which we release our products.

Our consultation specifically refers to the design of the census in England and Wales. We’re working closely with National Records of Scotland (NRS) and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) to ensure UK comparability of results, where possible. NRS and NISRA will be consulting with users in their respective countries in due course.

Following the 2011 Census, we released over eight billion cells of data in more than 650 tables in a series of releases. The first results were published in July 2012. This release contained the population estimates for England and Wales and household and population estimates by age and sex for local authorities. In subsequent releases, some up to 4 years after census day, we released more detailed data.

Greater need for flexibility

However, feedback from our users in local government, national government and academia, after the 2011 Census showed there’s a greater need for flexibility in the 2021 Census outputs and a more timely release of data.

We’ve listened to our users. In the consultation, we outline our plans to publish 2021 Census data via the ONS website in a combination of pre-determined univariate tables and a web-based interactive dissemination system where users can specify the data they need. This will mean the census data are:

  • Flexible – the web-based interactive dissemination system means users will be able to build their own tables selecting the geography, population base and variables they need
  • Timely – we’ll aim to disseminate national- and local authority-level estimates for England and Wales within 12 months of census day and all other estimates within 24 months of census day
  • Accessible – we’ll aim to host the web-based interactive dissemination system through the ONS website, meaning most census data will be available from one location and follow Government Digital Service guidelines on accessibility
  • Relevant – we’ll aim to develop Enhanced Census Outputs where census data and administrative data are linked at the record level to enable the production of multivariate, small area outputs

These are significant advantages that are intended to enable users to meet earlier deadlines, allow greater time for analysis, and deliver data that are more specific to their needs. The flexible dissemination system will also provide the same level of detail as the 2011 Census.

Through this consultation, we’re seeking to confirm the appetite amongst users for this type of system. We also explain the new dynamic statistical disclosure control method to enable users to easily and quickly access census data, without disclosing personal information.

In our consultation, we also outline our plans for producing microdata samples and origin-destination tables. We’d like to invite interested users to get involved with advising us on the design, creation, storage and dissemination of these specialist products.

Importance of statistics

We also recognise the importance of statistics for small areas (such as Output Areas, Workplace Zones and parishes) and we’ll continue to produce estimates for these geographies. We’d like to know the user need for data for all civil parishes in England and the variables required at this level. This is along with exploring the user requirement for grid-based statistics.

It’s important to note this is a proposal at the moment. We’ll hold a final consultation which outlines our more detailed plans before census day.

The consultation is open for responses from 28 February 2018 until 23 May 2018. You can read the consultation here.

For more information, please contact the 2021 Census Outputs and Dissemination Team at census.outputs@ons.gov.uk using “Initial View Consultation” as the subject line.

Suzanne Dunsmith is Head of 2021 Census Outputs and Dissemination