The Continuous Household Survey – what it can tell cultural organisations

Every so often, whether it’s in the news, reading a policy paper or in a discussion about the arts generally, you may have heard the acronym CHS cropping up. If you’ve never been sure what that meant, here’s our handy guide to Northern Ireland’s Continuous Household Survey.

Sum it up in one sentence…

The general public in Northern Ireland are asked the same questions every year, so the government can understand how we live our lives and how that impacts on the decisions they need to make.

Who asks the questions?

The results are used by a wide range of government departments and other bodies, so it’s all co-ordinated centrally through the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

Tell me more

  • There’s an entire section focused on attendance at and participation in arts, culture and leisure.
  • It also covers lots of other things too, like population trends, tourism and sports participation.
  • It’s mainly used by the government to inform the decisions they make across lots of different departments.
  • BUT the results are publicly available and can be used by anyone.
  • It’s been asking the Northern Irish similar questions every year since 1983.
  • Over 3,000 adults answered the arts, culture, and leisure questions in 2015/16.

What can the CHS tell us about culture?

The CHS can give you the big picture about how the people of Northern Ireland interact with the arts. However, it can't tell you how your specific organisation fits into that big picture.

The CHS can help you understand at a top level what the general public’s interests, behaviours, and satisfaction are with arts and culture in Northern Ireland. More specifically, the survey covers the following topics:

  • Levels of arts attendance (visiting arts exhibitions, museums, concerts, etc.) and participation (workshops, classes etc)
  • How often during the year people engage with the arts
  • Factors that would motivate people to engage more with the arts
  • Current level of satisfaction with arts provision
  • Why people are dissatisfied with the current arts provision

How can this information be useful?


if you have your own customer data, it can provide a point of comparison to put your own performance into context. Furthermore, you can use the data to benchmark the arts against other leisure activities such as people’s engagement with sports or libraries, and even against other regions of the UK.

Plugging your data gap:

if you don’t have your own customer data, more generic information about the arts can provide at least some form of evidence base to inform your decision making.

Understanding how the big picture is changing:

some changes are big and happen all at once, others simmer away and grow over time. As the CHS is conducted every year in the same way over a very long period of time, we can all better understand the year-on-year trends that are underpinning what we do. So when something big does change, it’s easier to recognise it and react.


it’s one of the main sources of information used by government, and it’s a source they recognise and trust – not just within the Department for Communities. So if the data it provides backs up your argument, it can be an effective lever to get someone to sit up and listen.

Where can I find the results of the CHS?

While the CHS survey is run each year by NISRA (the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency), the best place to look at information about culture, arts and leisure is to visit the Department for Communities’ Culture Statistics page.

Every year, they summarise the key findings relevant to the arts, but you can also download the relevant data tables in Excel if you want to delve a little deeper. This is mixed in with the other research they conduct so the most appropriate section to look for to find the CHS results is the Arts section on that page.

A similar survey takes place in Scoland each year and you can download the results of the Scottish Household Survey too.

Do the results get broken down into smaller areas?

Comparing yourself against all of Northern Ireland may not be as useful as looking specifically at your local council area. The number of people who get asked the survey each year isn’t typically enough to give an accurate picture of each council area every year, but the results are combined from multiple years to give a comparison at council level. The current breakdowns go up to 2015/16.

Do we have any say on what gets asked?

The questions are reviewed each year in December/January by the Department for Communities. While there is no open public consultation, thrive is one of the organisations that feeds back on the CHS. So if you have anything, feel free to let us know.

Can the team at thrive help me understand the CHS?

Of course! If you have specific questions on the CHS, or need any help understanding the numbers, email our research team and we can work with you to answer your questions.

The Continuous Household Survey is an annual public survey done by the Northern Irish Government. Here's how to access the results, and why you should read it.

View the CHS Results

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