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Statistics NZ 2018 Census — lessons learned

An independent review was conducted on the 2018 Census. The key findings and lessons learned can help with the delivery of large programmes and projects involving complex change and digital transformation.

Read the full report on the Statistics NZ website

Report of the Independent Review of New Zealand’s 2018 Census

Key themes and lessons from the review

Programme governance and leadership

  • Ensure that management accountabilities and the roles and responsibilities for all members within the governance structure are well defined, understood, and implemented.
  • Statistical methodology needs to take ownership of the design and monitoring of the census model.

Risk management and contingency planning

  • Keep things simple. Complexity adds risk and introduces confusion within the team, and to external partners and the public.
  • Large complex programmes inherently carry a level of risk. Problems will occur so plan for the worst and execute for success. Ensure the risks are well documented and monitored with agile mitigation strategies in place (tested) and ready to be deployed. Develop executable contingency plans for the key risks relating to IT and field operations failure.
  • Develop a critical path with critical success factors to ensure programme coordination and effectively manage interdependencies at the programme level.
  • The use of external vendors is an effective way to bring in the necessary expertise, skills, and knowledge to mitigate risk in large projects. The development of an organisational Contract Management Policy, procedures and templates as well as a Contract Management Plan will help strengthen the management control environment. All contracts with the vendors need to have clearly defined outputs and established timelines and must be carefully managed.

Programme design and implementation

  • Testing is critical. A comprehensive testing strategy including end-to-end integration testing of all systems and processes is necessary. Plan for sufficient time to conduct the tests and make necessary adjustments before going into production.
  • Build management information systems that produce reliable, meaningful results that can be trusted and used effectively.
  • Structured and formal peer review ensures that programme design is sound and implementation strategies are feasible.
  • With the increased use of administrative data and Statistics NZ’s evolving role in the country’s data ecosystem, the importance of statistical methodology cannot be underestimated.
  • Continual investment in innovation, research and development directly benefit the census. Incremental change in each census can avoid the necessity for more significant change in any one census, thereby reducing design and execution risk.

Engagement and communications

  • When dealing with external stakeholders and partners, take an outside/in approach by involving them in a meaningful way through the planning, design, testing, implementation, and evaluation of the programme. We heard many good ideas during our interviews with stakeholders and an enthusiasm for involvement that can be beneficial.
  • Nurture an environment that is open to innovation and receptive to ideas, concerns, issues, and criticism. Many risks can be mitigated through this open challenge culture.

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