1. Overview of question development for Census 2021

In 2018, the government presented the Help Shape Our Future: The 2021 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales White Paper to parliament. This detailed the topics that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) recommended for inclusion in the Census 2021.

Since then we have been researching and developing the questions for Census 2021. We have:

  • completed the 2017 Test and 2019 Rehearsal
  • completed user research and topic research
  • published a series of question development topic reports, to explain the research, testing and evaluation we have carried out to arrive at our question designs for Census 2021
  • engaged with users at census events and through consultations

Our Question and questionnaire development overview for Census 2021 report provides more detailed information on how we have developed and tested the overall look of Census 2021.

The questions and response options for Census 2021 are final. Specimen copies of the Census 2021 paper questionnaires have been published.

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2. Question development reports

We have published a series of Census 2021 question development reports. These provide a detailed explanation of the research, testing and evaluation we have carried out to arrive at our question designs for Census 2021.

These reports explain: 

  • our approach to question development

  • the design process of the online and paper census questionnaires

  • how we ordered the census questions

  • the criteria we used to evaluate the final question designs

  • our next steps as we prepare for Census 2021

Reports are available for the following topic areas:

A full summary of testing for Census 2021 was published on 4 March 2020.

We have also implemented search-as-you-type and address look-up functionality for many sociocultural questions to make it easier for respondents to self-define when completing Census 2021 online. Our Search-as-you-type and address look-up functionality for Census 2021 report, published on 21 December 2020, provides more information.

Our Output and enumeration bases: residential address and population definitions for Census 2021 report, published on 2 October 2020, explains how different types of housing and population groups are defined in Census 2021 in England and Wales.

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3. Guidance for questions

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

On 18 February 2021 we published a Coronavirus (COVID-19) question guidance report for Census 2021. This details how we have developed and tested additional guidance to support respondents in answering Census 2021 questions in the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Sex, gender identity and sexual orientation

On 11 September 2019, we published a report presenting the Guidance for questions on sex, gender identity and sexual orientation for the 2019 Census Rehearsal for the 2021 Census, which includes a summary of the research that has informed the drafting of this guidance.

On 12 February 2021, we published a report presenting the Census 2021: Final guidance for the question "What is your sex?", which explains how we evaluated the results of our research and testing to inform the final guidance.

On 22 February 2021 we published our report Census 2021: Qualitative research on the guidance for the question "What is your sex?", which provides a detailed explanation of the testing we have carried out to inform the final guidance.

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4. Research and testing of questions

In December 2017, we published an initial 2021 Census topic research report. This report outlined the research we had done on each of the topic areas. It confirmed that we would recommend that Census 2021 should not include questions on year last worked, volunteering or the number of rooms in the accommodation. 

On 14 December 2018, we published an update on our research and testing of questions and topics for the 2021 Census. This report covered the remaining topics where a recommendation on inclusion had not been previously announced, and which appeared in the White Paper recommendations for 2021 Census. These were sexual orientation and gender identity. The report also covers research carried out since December 2017 to finalise recommendations on tick-boxes for the ethnic group question and also reports on our recommendations regarding supervisory status.

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5. User engagement

Census Roadshow 2017

In July 2017, we updated users on our progress towards designing the Census 2021 questionnaire with a series of roadshow events in Birmingham, Cardiff, London and Newcastle. For an up-to-date view, see the 2021 Census topic research report.

The opening slides from the roadshow sessions include information on the agenda and background.

Our topic slides provide information as presented at the roadshows on:

The closing slides from the roadshow sessions are also available and include information on next steps.

Our current assessment slides provide information on our assessment of census topics as presented at the roadshows.

We also produced a number of posters from the census roadshows, giving updates on:

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6. Census consultation and review

In 2015, we had the biggest-ever public consultation response to topics that should be included in Census 2021. Most of the topics being considered for inclusion were decided by evaluating responses to this consultation. We have considered how, or whether, to meet user needs for information on some topics, for example, the proposed new topics of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In May 2016, we published 23 May 2016, The 2021 Census -- Assessment of initial user requirements on content for England and Wales: Response to consultation (PDF, 796KB) report. This presents our full response to the consultation, updating our initial view on 2021 Census content for England and Wales. It provides an overview of the evaluation process we used to assess the responses, and it summarises the results of the evaluation.

You can find out more about the design of the census, as well as the latest news and updates on progress towards Census 2021.

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