Life on the Census front line

I joined one of our census rehearsal enumerators last week as he visited Edinburgh’s Broomhouse district to ask people to return their questionnaires.

I wanted to see what life on the census front line is like and – despite the cold, damp weather – the experience was a welcome one. I can see that it is both challenging and rewarding.

The highlight for me was speaking to the people we met on the doorstep. I am pleased to say we were politely received by everybody, and cordially by most.

Enumerators cannot complete questionnaires on behalf of anyone although they can offer assistance. We helped one gentleman, who had difficulty seeing, with his. As a single-person household it was quite a quick and easy job – between 5 and 10 minutes – even while standing on the doorstep.

Several people were a bit put off by the questionnaire’s size – 28 pages. So it was good to explain that there are only four pages of questions for each person. The document seems big because it has enough space for five people, plus general questions about the household itself.

We had a very interesting conversation with a sociology graduate who had not sent back his questionnaire, mainly because he was concerned that we could not keep his details confidential. I was able to explain to him how vital confidentiality is to us, and reassure him that we have a long record of successfully safeguarding everybody’s personal information. While he still chose not to take part in the rehearsal, he said that, because he recognised how important the census is, he would certainly complete the 2011 questionnaire.

We don’t want to spend time and taxpayers’ money following up households that have already returned a questionnaire. So we have set up procedures to inform enumerators which households have already returned their questionnaires by post or on the internet. It was good to see that this worked for the enumerator that I was with and we did not trouble people unnecessarily.

I was surprised that there were so many places where we rang the doorbell but had no reply. People’s 24-hour lifestyles makes traditional census-taking more of a challenge, which means we’ll have to work hard to contact everybody in 2011.

Does my morning’s experience make me want to be an enumerator in the future? It does – I enjoyed meeting people and explaining why the census matters to them. But I have a feeling my “day job” is going to keep me busy in 2011…

%d bloggers like this: