This is a case study for Principle V5: Efficiency and proportionality. 

The GSS publishes guidance on monitoring and reducing respondent burden when carrying out statistical surveys, which directly supports Principle V5 of the Code.  

The guidance recommends that in order to monitor respondent burden, statistics producers should: 

  • collect data on the respondent burden associated with their statistical surveys 
  • estimate the costs of compliance to give a measure of respondent burden 
  • compare the costs of compliance with previous years’ figures 
  • investigate any substantial changes and take appropriate action to try to reduce the burden, and 
  • explain to users any variations in compliance costs caused by changes in the nature of a survey, such as a sample increase.  

The guidance provides the example of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) annual statistics tracking the compliance costs incurred by businesses and local authorities in complying with its statistical surveys. 

The guidance also recommends that each department appoints a Survey Control Liaison Officer (SCLO), who is responsible for supporting their statistical Head of Profession in monitoring and reducing respondent burden. It highlights the network of SCLOs managed by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) Survey Control Unit, which produce guidance on what is expected of SCLOs in the Northern Ireland context. NISRA also produce annual assessments of the burden on the businesses, households and individuals completing the statistical surveys issued by Northern Ireland Departments each year. 

In terms of reducing burden, the GSS guidance identifies a range of actions to ease the burden placed on survey respondents. It highlights how the National Travel Survey (NTS) has implemented several solutions to better meet user needs whilst reducing the burden for participants and interviewers. These include:  

  • an annual review of the NTS questionnaire achieved by identifying sections of the survey which take the longest to complete, in order to remove questions where the burden is disproportionate to user needs 
  • conducting cognitive testing on any new questions before being approved to add to the NTS, to assesses how well participants understand each question and the level of burden it creates  
  • setting up an online panel to manage the large volume of requests for new questions, creating shorter and more targeted surveys towards sub-groups where it would be disproportionate to ask everyone the full NTS, and with much quicker turnaround of results, and 
  • the development of a digital travel diary and extensive research to establish how a digital diary could simultaneously reduce burden on respondents and interviewers and improve data quality. 

Feedback has been positive, with interviewers commenting the NTS is now taking less time to complete and early analysis indicates the survey is shorter. The results of the user feedback survey, cognitive testing and digital diary developments can be found on the NTS pages on GOV.UK 

This example highlights some of the best practice already undertaken within the GSS to support the monitoring and reduction of respondent burden when carrying out statistical surveys, and the GSS guidance available to statistics producers looking to undertake such activities.