Assurance mechanisms for the Census 2021 Programme

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) uses robust assurance mechanisms to monitor the performance of the Census 2021 Programme and identify areas for improvement. We take an integrated approach to assuring our work on the programme based on the “three lines of defence” model. In this model, we employ different sets of activities at each of the three levels to assure our outputs against agreed quality criteria.

Three lines of defence

First line

The everyday management controls and working practices, including monthly highlight reports for all parts of the Census 2021 Programme, reporting progress, issues and risks.

Second line

Internal assurance provided by the Census Programme Management Office (PMO) and equivalent roles within each of our main suppliers. These take the form of “stage gates” to control the progress of projects from one phase to another, and periodic reviews of project management disciplines.

Third line

External assurance, which in the case of the Census 2021 Programme is provided by the government – including Internal Audit and Office of Government Commerce (OGC) GatewayTM – and the Office for Statistics Regulation. In addition, ad-hoc assurance may be sought, for example, independent information assurance. Our third lines of assurance are fully independent of the Census 2021 Programme and comply with the Public Finance Manual’s guidance for major investment projects.

Risk management and quality assurance

Assurance activity is informed at all levels by risk management, to focus efforts on areas of highest-risk, and to support important decisions and approvals. To maximise the use of specialist assurance resource, and to minimise the impact on the teams delivering the census, we seek to integrate assurance activities where appropriate to do so. We do this through developing an Integration Assurance and Approvals Plan (IAAP), which schedules all assurance activity across the three levels.

Lastly, we are taking a structured approach to improving the quality of our work ahead of Census 2021. A formal evaluation of the 2019 Rehearsal has been published and identifies areas for improvement. In addition, our teams record lessons learned as they go, to improve their approach, which will ultimately help us achieve our Census 2021 objectives.

Census assurance mechanisms across the UK

The National Records of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency have published information on their assurance mechanisms, for Scotland and Northern Ireland, respectively.