3 July 2001


                                                                                                           English only



Symposium on Global Review of 2000 Round of

Population and Housing Censuses:

Mid-Decade Assessment and Future Prospects

Statistics Division

Department of Economic and Social Affairs

United Nations Secretariat

New York, 7-10 August 2001













Strategies for Involving Stakeholders in Census Activities

The Canadian Experience*

Marie Desnoyers and Doug Norris**





Summary. 1

A. Introduction. 3

B. Stakeholders in the census. 3

1. Federal government departments and agencies. 3

2. Provincial, territorial and municipal governments. 3

3. Private-sector companies. 3

4. Secondary distributors. 4

5. Academics. 4

7. Non-governmental organizations. 4

8. Media and general public. 4

C. Role of stakeholders in content determination. 5

1. Determination of census content 5

2. Involvement of stakeholders. 6

D. Role of stakeholders in collection. 7

E. Role of stakeholders in dissemination. 7

F. Managing stakeholders’ expectations. 8

G. Conclusion. 9


Strategies for Involving Stakeholders in Census Activities: The Canadian Experience


The term “stakeholders” is used to describe those who are involved in the conduct of the census, especially current or potential users of census data. They include federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments; private-sector companies; academic teachers and researchers; libraries; non-governmental organizations; media and the general public. The involvement of stakeholders in the census is essential at every step of the census process, from content determination to dissemination of products and services. Several departments of the federal government are among the biggest users of census data in Canada. Population counts define federal electoral boundaries and provide inputs for formulas determining transfer payments. Other major federal users are departments responsible for social security and labour market issues, immigration, housing, multiculturalism and Aboriginal affairs. In fact, these departments contribute funding to cover the cost of data collection to meet their programme needs—about 13 per cent of total cost in the 2001 census. Provincial, territorial and municipal governments also use census data for the services within their jurisdictions, such as social services, education, roads and highways, public housing and schools. These users are very important, given the support they provide in collecting census data.


Private-sector companies are particularly interested in small-area data for such activities as marketing, selecting locations for businesses, route planning, direct-mail advertising and surveys. Some companies offer “value-added” products, which combine census data with other elements (such as complementary data sources, data retrieval and mapping software) to produce a commercial product. The academic sector uses census data for both teaching and research. Data are used for analysis of trends and to test theories about underlying social and economic behaviour. Researchers help Statistics Canada to identify data gaps and future data needs. Along with libraries, the academic sector enhances the visibility and usefulness of census data. Libraries help the public to gain access to census information. Other non-governmental users include community and cultural associations, religious groups, labour unions and professional groups.  The media uses census data to inform the public about social and economic conditions in Canada, as well as to market their own services. Finally, the partnership between Statistics Canada and the general public is essential to ensure the collection of high-quality data. A public communications programme is established for each census, which emphasizes measures to ensure privacy and confidentiality. Many census stakeholders also promote the census to the Canadian public.


Stakeholders are involved in helping to shape the content of the census. New data needs must be considered in light of legislative requirements, ensuring historical continuity of the content, and availability of the data from non-census sources. Some topics are not appropriate for a self-enumerated questionnaire and are better explored in surveys. All new questions must be tested before being added to the questionnaire. Stakeholders are consulted regularly through bilateral committees, in larger meetings and through official statistical focal points. Statistics Canada also has advisory committees on such topics as demography, social conditions and health. Other mechanisms for consulting with clients include written submissions, special meetings, conferences and the regional account executives of Statistics Canada across the country. For the 2006 census, the Internet will be used for consultation, allowing a larger audience to participate.


The dissemination strategy requires input from stakeholders to ensure that data needs are being met. Some census products continue to be issued as publications, although users have indicated that the Internet should become the primary dissemination tool in the future. Testing electronic products with a sample of users from different sectors has become an essential activity, because users differ in their ability to access and use such information.


Stakeholders sometimes have unrealistic expectations about their influence on census content or dissemination. Expectations can be managed by focusing discussions on specific points where feedback is critical. Users also need to know about all the elements of the statistical programme so they do not expect the census to meet all their data needs. Regular consultation on the progress of planning activities helps to build consensus. Throughout the process, stakeholders must be informed about decisions made and the rationale for adopting or rejecting changes.


A. Introduction

1.               The Canadian census relies on a large, diverse group of stakeholders to fulfill its mission of informing Canadian citizens, businesses and governments about the socio-economic conditions and evolution of Canada. Many of these stakeholders are important census data users. The involvement of census stakeholders in all aspects of the census is crucial to ensuring a successful census that meets the data needs of all.


2.               This document describes the importance and the role of stakeholders throughout the census cycle. Special attention will be paid to the content determination process as well as to the methods used to maximize stakeholders’ participation while managing their expectations and favouring consensus-building during consultation activities.

B. Stakeholders in the census

3.               The information emanating from the census is useful to many different groups of data users. The following are key census stakeholders.

1. Federal government departments and agencies

4.               A number of federal government departments are among the biggest census data users. Census data are required to meet legislative and programme needs. For example, federal electoral boundaries are defined by census population counts following each decennial census. The federal Department of Finance also depends on data based on population estimates produced from the census and subsequent estimates of coverage as a key parameter in formulas determining transfer payments to the provinces and territories. Federal departments responsible for social security and labour market issues, immigration, housing, multiculturalism and Aboriginal affairs are all major users of census data. In fact, for the past three censuses, these departments have provided the marginal funding to cover the collection of data to meet their programme needs (approximately 13 per cent of total cost in 2001). In return for this financial contribution, special arrangements were negotiated with them to enhance access to census data.

2. Provincial, territorial and municipal governments

5.               Provincial, territorial and municipal governments use census data to develop policies and plan programmes and services within their jurisdiction. Demographic and socio-economic information is necessary in the planning of many programmes, including social services, education, roads and highways, public transportation, housing needs and schools. These groups are interested mostly in provincial- and subprovincial-level data to fulfill their data needs.


6.               The provincial and territorial departments are strategically important, given the support they provide in collecting census data.

3. Private-sector companies

7.               Census data are useful to the private sector for many purposes, such as determining the market for a particular product or service, selecting a location for a plant or enterprise, route planning, preparing direct-mail advertising campaigns and survey activities. Their interest resides mainly in small-area data.

4. Secondary Distributors

8.               In several cases, the private sector has developed “value-added” products and services where Statistics Canada data become a component of the final offering. These offerings can include value-added content (e.g., complementary data sources, data retrieval and mapping software), as well as analysis and consulting services. Census data are then licensed to be used for such subsequent distribution.

5. Academics

9.               The academic sector relies on census data for both teaching and research purposes.  Census data are used to develop and test empirical models as well as theories to identify the factors underlying social and economic phenomena. The academic community, through its research and analytical activities, also provides insights and help in identifying data gaps to guide future content determination processes. Therefore, Statistics Canada has recently devoted special efforts to ensure that the research needs of academics are met through improved access to detailed microdata. Through research activities, this sector also contributes to enhancing the visibility of census data and their usefulness to Canadians. This group has an interest in the historical aspect of census information to analyse trends.

6. Libraries

10.           There exists a wide variety of libraries supporting a range of organizations from corporations to universities and colleges, as well as communities and government departments. Programmes have been developed to maximize the access to census data through the libraries. One traditional partnership with the library community allows access to information emanating from the federal government to the general public. There also exists a programme to allow the sharing of resources among college and university libraries to increase access to the academic community and their students in support of their teaching and research activities. These partnerships with the library community not only favour the liaison with the general public, the academic sector and other users but also ensure that future generations are more familiar with census and other data products.

7. Non-governmental organizations

11.           Community and cultural associations, religious groups, labour unions, professional associations and other interest groups are also users of census data.  These groups need census information to assess the socio-economic conditions of a specific group.  This information will help to evaluate the need for the implementation of programmes to aid a group.  The data also help to monitor the effectiveness of these specific programmes.

8. Media and general public

12.           The media use census information to inform the general public about the socio-economic situation of Canadians.  The data also assist the media in marketing their services as well as developing and evaluating advertising activities.


13.           Finally, there exists an essential partnership between Statistics Canada and Canadians as census respondents.  A high-quality census depends on the cooperation of all Canadians. However, Canadians have increasing concerns related to the confidentiality of the information provided, to privacy issues surrounding data-collection methods used as well as the questions posed and to the response burden imposed on them.  These factors need to be taken into account in the planning of all census activities. 

C. Role of stakeholders in content determination

1. Determination of census content

14.           The Canadian census is comprehensive and includes more than 50 questions on such topics as family characteristics, language, mobility, immigration, ethno-cultural characteristics, labour market activities, education, income and housing and shelter costs.  In determining the content of a census, it is important to ensure historical continuity of the content.  However, as new data needs emerge, the content of the census must be revised and adjusted to shed light on these new issues.  Modifications to the census content are determined after a balanced consideration of many elements, including legislative requirements, alternative sources of data, a generalized need for data for small geographic areas or sparse populations, respondents’ considerations and costs involved.


15.           In many instances, legislation stipulates some specific information to be supplied by the census.  Otherwise, when evaluating the need for a topic to be added to the census questionnaire, all existing non-census data sources must be investigated. 


16.           The census, surveys and administrative data sources complement each other in fulfilling users’ needs.  It is recommended that they be evaluated jointly in assessing the need for new information.  However, the Canadian census uses a self-enumeration environment. Not all topics are appropriate material for this type of collection methodology. The census can offer only a broad perspective on each topic. Surveys, however, can cover such complex topics as victimization, given the presence of the interviewer.  Moreover, these topics can be covered in greater detail.  


17.           An important reason for using a census is to obtain data for small geographic areas or for sparse populations.  Some administrative databases also provide information for small geographic areas on topics such as vital statistics (i.e., births, deaths, marriages and divorces).


18.           Census data are also used to identify target populations, for which more detailed information can be collected through a post-censal survey.  Shortly after the 2001 census, three post-censal surveys will be conducted on the following topics: participation and activity limitations, Aboriginal people and ethnic diversity.


19.           Once it has been determined that the census is best suited to fulfil a specific data need, all potential new questions and changes to the questionnaire must be carefully tested with respondents before being adopted. This assesses the effectiveness of proposed new questions and gauges potential impact on collection, processing and dissemination procedures and costs, and data comparability. It also measures respondents’ understanding of the questions and their reactions to the burden imposed on them by the quantity and complexity of the questions, and it assesses whether there is a perception of invasion of privacy.  For these reasons, all census questions are carefully tested by a variety of means.  Focus groups, individual in-depth discussions with respondents, as well as small and large statistical tests are effective methods of testing new content.

2. Involvement of stakeholders

20.           The role of Statistics Canada is to produce statistical information relevant to current and emerging needs of data users. Ensuring the relevance of census data is accomplished through consultation activities with data users and other interested parties.  In order to reach the different groups of stakeholders, many different consultative mechanisms are adopted.


21.           Bilateral committees, established with Statistics Canada and key federal departments, present an opportunity to assess regularly their respective priorities. In addition, larger meetings are held to discuss emerging census data needs in greater detail.  Given the recent creation of financial partnerships with some of these federal departments, they expect to play a more active role during the planning stage of the census.  It is therefore crucial to consult them on an ongoing basis and ensure that they are brought up to date on developments and given timely responses to their issues and concerns.  It should be noted that a new question will not be included on the census questionnaire if the information already exists from other surveys or administrative data sources or could be more efficiently collected through these other vehicles. Moreover, a question will not be included if it has not been tested or clearly shown to be effective or if it has not been demonstrated that Canadians are willing and able to answer it.


22.           Each province or territory has nominated official statistical focal points.  Regular meetings with these focal points give an opportunity to assess provincial and territorial priorities.  Many of these focal points have also organized meetings with major data users within their jurisdiction to discuss census data utilization and needs in greater detail. 


23.           Statistics Canada also has advisory committees to gather advice on topics such as demography, social conditions and health.  Since a majority of members of these advisory committees are from the academic community, this forum has proven to be an effective means of gathering the feedback of this group. 


24.           Diverse mechanisms have been set up to consult with other client groups.  Inviting written submissions, organizing special meetings and attending specific conferences have been highly effective in the past.  In addition, Statistics Canada always benefits from its regional account executives across Canada who work closely with data users and convey clients’ views.  These account executives are also critical at the planning stage of any consultation process in identifying major users to be consulted.  For the 2006 census, the Internet will also be used as a consultative mechanism.  This will give a larger audience an opportunity to provide feedback. 


25.           During the content determination stage, the census also works closely with international organizations, such as the United Nations, to share professional expertise and to promote common concepts and practices to maximize the comparability of socio-economic data.  For example, for the 2001 census, the definition of children was adopted to concur with the United Nations recommendation (sons and daughters no longer have to be “never married” to be considered as children in a census family).

D. Role of stakeholders in collection

26.           Census collection activities depend heavily on the willing cooperation of respondents. Many Canadians are increasingly concerned with the response burden imposed on them by a lengthy questionnaire or by complex or invasive questions.  In order to make the public aware of the importance of participating in the census, a public communications programme is always established for each census. This programme also emphasizes the measures being adopted to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the information provided.  Many census stakeholders, including federal, provincial and territorial departments as well as other organizations, provide voluntary support to promote the census, such as inserting messages in correspondences. The media also promotes the census to the Canadian public.

E. Role of stakeholders in dissemination

27.           The advice of stakeholders is essential in planning the dissemination strategy to ensure that the products and services suit the needs of data users. Some stakeholders also become critical partners in disseminating census data to ensure the widest possible use. 


28.           When planning the census dissemination programme, stakeholders are invited to discuss their experience and to provide recommendations to ensure that the data will ultimately meet their requirements. When planning the components of the census products and services line and output media, the range of users’ abilities to access and use the information has to be taken into consideration because of the diversity of data users.  Users are also consulted on other dissemination issues, such as user-friendliness of the products, searching and indexing features, pricing and licensing conditions and accessibility of the metadata (i.e., information about the data).


29.           The benefits of this type of consultation are numerous.  For example, feedback from the consultation leading to the 1996 census dissemination programme contributed to maintaining some key products in paper format, while generally migrating to electronic modes of dissemination.  During the recent consultation activities towards the planning of the 2001 census dissemination, users have strongly recommended that the Internet become the primary dissemination tool, thereby enhancing access to census data.


30.           Testing prototypes of electronic products with data users has now become an essential step to the success of a user-oriented dissemination strategy and products and services line. This testing is conducted with a sample of users from different sectors to ensure that the wide range of users’ capacity and abilities to access and use the information is taken into account when developing these products.


31.           Once the data are ready to be released, partnerships formed with numerous key sectors are vital to wider dissemination of census data. Public and private-sector organizations, libraries and the media are critical in ensuring a broader dissemination. 


32.           As mentioned previously, some private-sector firms provide value-added content, analysis and services not available from Statistics Canada.  Dissemination partnerships also exist with provincial and territorial statistical focal points.  In order to best serve the statistical needs of their data users, these focal points add analysis and other related data to census information products.  Similar partnerships also exist with federal departments. 


33.           Partnerships established with libraries as well as news media are essential in ensuring that information on issues of broad interest is accessible to the general public. 


34.           Statistics Canada has created partnerships with secondary and elementary schools as well as school boards to encourage classroom use of census data.  As already discussed, a special partnership has been established between most Canadian post-secondary institutions and Statistics Canada to ensure that Canadian data are made available for research and teaching purposes.  In addition, the academic community is an important partner in developing and reviewing analytical products. 

F. Managing stakeholders’ expectations

35.           Any consultation process creates expectations regarding the amount of influence participants have in determining the content of the census questionnaire or defining the characteristics of a dissemination programme.  Thus it becomes extremely important to set up a framework whereby stakeholders’ attention gets focused on specific points of discussion.  This can be done during the consultation process or in the consultation guide provided to participants prior to the sessions.  A consultation guide is developed to help users convey their ideas and suggestions to Statistics Canada.  It presents information on what the specific points of discussion are and aims at focusing discussions on these topics where feedback is critical. 


36.           During any consultation activity pertaining to the census content, it is essential to discuss, at very early stages, factors that will eventually be taken into account in the content determination process.  This can be done in the consultation guide as well as during the consultation process.  User expectations can also be managed by positioning the census in the context of the overall statistical programme as one means of fulfilling users’ needs.  The 2006 census will adopt a consultation model that will expand content consultation beyond the census.  Such integrated consultation activities will invite users to discuss all of their socio-economic data needs pertaining to census themes.  This will maximize the full range of Statistics Canada’s socio-economic data sources to meet users’ needs, instead of focusing on the census as the sole means of satisfying their current and future data needs.  This should manage users’ expectations about the extent to which they can influence the content of one specific element of the statistical programme. This model differs from previous models since it will proactively promote all elements of the socio-economic statistical programme to users, including the census.


37.           For the recent consultation activities leading to the elaboration of the 2001 census dissemination programme, users were invited not only to discuss their data needs but also to prioritize their needs and to provide the underlying rationale.  This has proven to be an effective means of consensus-reaching among the different groups of stakeholders. 


38.           Feedback gathered during consultation is then analysed and evaluated with internal partners in light of financial and operational constraints and other related considerations.  Priorities are discussed, options are eliminated and viable alternative solutions are proposed.  In order to facilitate consensus-building, major data users and stakeholders are regularly kept informed on the progress of the planning activities (content or dissemination) in various presentation forums. Feedback received to date—commonalties as well as divergences—is discussed, as is the underlying rationale.  The feasibility of the different options and suggestions is discussed. Viable alternatives are presented and discussed.


39.           Thematic meetings regrouping stakeholders from different sectors have proven to be a very effective means of facilitating consensus as participants get a direct opportunity to expose and discuss their diverging views and underlying rationale.


40.           To facilitate ongoing consultation with major stakeholders and to ensure that Statistics Canada’s personnel are constantly aware of previous feedback provided, a database has been created to organize feedback gathered from consultation sessions.  This database can be consulted by topic, participant or sector to present factual information in a useful fashion.  This builds corporate memory and also reassures participants of the importance of their contribution to the planning process. Summarized results from the consultation and testing activities are available to individuals and groups who participated as well as those expressing an interest.  The Internet has proven to be an effective means of keeping users and other interested parties informed on the progress of activities.

G. Conclusion

41.           Quality of census data is of major interest to stakeholders.  It is therefore extremely important that Statistics Canada makes every effort to involve stakeholders, from content determination to dissemination, to assure quality.  Throughout the process it is important to continue to provide feedback to stakeholders on decisions made and the rationale for incorporating or not incorporating changes. 


42.           Ongoing consultation on data needs will ensure that relevant data are produced.  Consultation and testing activities are essential to a user-oriented dissemination strategy, maximizing the accessibility and interpretability of census data. Consultation with stakeholders also gains support from respondents in collection activities.  Moreover, testing on the content of the questionnaire also contributes to the success of the census.  Stakeholders’ involvement in the census is essential for a successful census. It is not only required to assess the socio-economic conditions and evolution of Canada but is also a critical element in stimulating broad public debate on social issues, which represents an essential element of democracy.

*       This document was reproduced without formal editing.

**     Statistics Canada, Canada.  The views expressed in the paper are those of the author and do not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the United Nations Secretariat.