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The Long Term Strategy for Population Surveys in Scotland 2009-2019

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Originally published in late 2009, updated version published in March 2012.

1 The two strategic aims of the 2009-2019 Long Term Strategy are:

1.1.1 To ensure that the Scottish Government’s population surveys meet key information needs while maximising the analytical potential of the data they generate, the precision of estimates and value for money.

1.1.2 To give full consideration to issues of survey participation, respondent burden, data quality and data security and to make recommendations that align survey practice across Government and promote good practice to other public bodies.

1.2 The timescale of this strategy is 10 years and it is anticipated that the Strategy will be reviewed and revised as necessary, with the shorter term objectives being updated by the SPSCC biennially.  

1.3 The strategy is designed to improve the way population surveys are run and to increase the availability and use of survey data, both at a national and local level.  The improvements achieved will help support the long term census alternatives work.

1.4 The first two and a half years of the strategy focussed on harmonised core questions, sampling methodology, and the review and re-procurement of the Scottish Government run cross-sectional population surveys. The next 2-4 years will see a shift towards data analysis, linkage and dissemination, and co-ordination and harmonisation across other surveys in Scotland.

1.5 There will continue to be a horizon scanning element to consider issues which could impact the surveys in the future, for example developments in alternative modes of data collection.

1.6 The benefits of survey managers working collaboratively and sharing best practice have been great for Scottish Government cross-sectional surveys and we will now seek to extend those benefits by inviting more surveys and survey managers into that process, including longitudinal, ad-hoc surveys and surveys owned and managed outwith core Scottish Government.

2 Core Questions and Pooled Sample

2.1 In 2011 the three main Scottish Government cross-sectional surveys (The Scottish Health Survey; The Scottish Household Survey, and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey) were designed and sampled in co-ordination with each other so that the 20 core questions asked in each survey can be combined to produce a large enough sample size for robust estimates of rarely occurring characteristics at a national level and of other characteristics at a small area level.

2.2 Monitoring and evaluation of the core questions will remain an important part of the strategy, and so long as they are shown to be effective work will commence to actively encourage use of the questions in other surveys.

2.3 There remains also the potential to bring more population sample surveys run by public sector organisations across Scotland into the centralised sample and design framework. This would:

2.3.1 help mange respondent burden, as it would reduce the risk of households being asked to respond to multiple surveys;

2.3.2 realise cost savings as a design and sampling service could be provided to public bodies by the Office of the Chief Statistician and Performance for little or no cost;

2.3.3 increase comparability of survey results;

2.3.4 and allow the possibility of those additional surveys contributing to the pooled data.

2.4 The weighting methodology for the pooled sample will be developed and implemented by the Office of the Chief Statistician and Performance. The methodology will deliver weights that:

2.4.1 correct for sampling error and response bias so weighted statistics are representative of the Scottish population.

2.4.2 meet user requirements for consistency.

2.4.3 are understandable and useable by a range of internal and external analysts.

3 Response Rates

3.1 There remains concern over response rates and the impact of differential response rates on data usefulness and costs.  We will maintain vigilance and openness to options.

3.2 For the Scottish Health, Household and Crime & Justice Surveys, fieldwork outcomes (i.e. deadwood rates, response rates etc) will be closely monitored and a harmonised method for calculating and reporting on response rates across surveys will be implemented.

4 Analysis and Dissemination

4.1 Disseminating data from the major population surveys in a range of formats to a range of audiences ensures maximum value is extracted from the data.  To improve dissemination practices and increase the use of survey data we will work in partnership with wider public bodies and analytical networks to:

4.1.1 Review the dissemination and data access procedures of the major population surveys and consider the development of harmonised dissemination and data access processes, taking into account the different user groups of the major population surveys;

4.1.2 Promote use of Scottish survey data;

4.1.3 Provide support to data users to understand, analyse and interpret survey data;

4.1.4 Develop a dissemination strategy for pooled samples.

5 Scottish Government Cross-Sectional Surveys

5.1 The Scottish Government cross-sectional surveys formed the focus of work in the first two years of the strategy, and will remain a priority although the work of the committee will broaden somewhat.

5.2 The focus of co-ordination and sharing best practice across surveys may now sensibly move on to consider weighting methodologies, technical reports, users guides and data linkage.

5.3 The potential impact of issues which could affect the surveys in the future, such as alternative modes for data collection, will be monitored.

5.4 Consideration of re-procuring contracts for the Scottish Government cross-sectional surveys will begin in earnest in 2015. Many benefits were accrued from a strategic approach to the procurement of the surveys in 2011 and a similar (though not necessarily identical) approach will be taken in 2015.

6 Delivery Plan

6.1 This strategy represents a significant and important body of work, intended to encompass a wide range of surveys, including but not restricted to the main Scottish Government cross sectional population surveys.

6.2 The Scottish Population Surveys Co-ordinating Committee (SPSCC) are the strategic group tasked with the delivery of the strategy.  The SPSCC agree the delivery plan to take the strategy forward and will meet twice a year to review progress.

6.3 Under the SPSCC, the Scottish Population Surveys Working Group (SPSWG) form an operational group taking the work plan forward.  It will encourage cross analytical working and will seek expert input as necessary.

6.4 All stakeholders will be kept informed of progress and given the opportunity to feed in through ScotStat.  All users registered with an interest in any of the population surveys on the ScotStat register will be invited to view the minutes and papers from the SPSCC meetings and will be welcome to respond.