How Novabase digitised Portugal’s census operations in 2011

With support from Novabase, Portugal’s statistics office, the Instituto Nacional de Estatística (INE), delivered its 2011 census three months ahead of schedule, on budget and to international standards.

Following United Nations recommendations, Portugal’s population and housing census takes place every 10 years.

It is an invaluable contribution to better understanding of the country’s attributes and needs, as well as a critical input to public policy and funding allocation.

The census operation in 2001 was the largest statistics operation ever carried out in Portugal. The INE partnered with Novabase to achieve a goal of capturing and coding data from 22 million paper questionnaires in less than 6 months.

In 2011, the INE set a new objective: to use digital technology to increase real-time control of its operations and reduce the overall budget.

Digitising the operations

Novabase helped the INE to digitise the census process in 4 key areas.

  • Managing field resources with the Field Force Control System to monitor geographic areas and resources using instant messaging, notifications and reporting.

  • Collecting data online using the web-based e-Census solution, which delivered an online response rate of more than 50%.

  • Ensuring data quality using the Census Coverage Survey to consolidate and produce high quality data that complied with assessment criteria.

  • Designing and developing operations with the Census Data Capture and Coding Centre (CDCCC) able to scan 15 million questionnaires and code 7 billion characters.


of respondents said e- Census was friendly and easy to use


operations staff recruited and trained in less than 3 months


high volume scanners processed 130,000 pages a day

Ensuring everything works seamlessly

Novabase worked collaboratively with the INE from the start to ensure goals were clear and risks, such as a low response rate, security and data quality, had been identified.

The INE and Novabase then set out clear ways of working and communication for governance, programme management and business processes.

Finally, Novabase helped design and test every detail including:

  • selecting and modifying facilities to meet legal, safety and performance requirements
  • testing core applications and the integration of services for performance and security
  • managing suppliers of network, hardware and human resources
  • delivering track and trace and other transport and warehousing solutions
  • organising the secure, controlled destruction of data and recycling of paper forms

The result

Following a full end-to-end rehearsal and fine-tuning, the census began as planned in 2011.

By December 2011 the preliminary results were published. Novabase had helped the INE to achieve its target nearly three months ahead of schedule, on budget and to the agreed international quality standards.

The census fully confirmed the potential of digital channels and the quality of data compared to traditional paper-based responses.

Paulo Moreira

Speak to Paulo and learn how Census can help you

Paulo Moreira