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11.09.17

Make the census meaningful again

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Christopher Gallagher, Public Sector – SAS, reveals the key to building richer pictures of society and the economy faster, more accurately and at a lower cost.

As someone who is passionate about the role data plays in society, I fully understand the importance of the role the Census plays for England and Wales. Carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), it gives a valuable 10-year view of the state of the nation. Apart from the sheer size of the information it collects, the Census plays a vital role in informing policies in public and private sectors. Equally, the plan to move the Census to a pure-play online exercise means extra insights can be gleaned at a lower cost. 

Getting more people to take the Census online allows us to expand the kind of questions that can be asked. How is the rise in life expectancy and multigenerational living impacting households? Who is involved in the Gig Economy and what effect is participation having on GDP, living standards and citizen satisfaction? How many more citizens feel comfortable enough (and have the facility in a new census, for example) to note their sexual orientation or transition? What would or could answers to all these questions tell us about the evolution of the UK?

Two key opportunities are presenting themselves, both of which are being partially exploited right now. The first is the opportunity to combine administrative data with standard population statistics. This can give you insights into the UK that would have been impossible 10 years ago. For example, how have income tax receipts changed as population size and self-employment have grown?

The second opportunity lies in using analytics to reveal things about the population that are difficult to spot. What are the key factors affecting self-employment in big cities? How do these compare to rural self-employment? These are relevant, challenging questions that you are well-placed to answer.  

In addition, as you roll out pilots or promotion for the ONS Census Transformation Programme advanced analytics could help you assess citizen sentiment towards the project – the results of which could be used to help you develop communications or promotional campaigns to drive up engagement levels amongst disengaged segments. 

These ideas are sparked from the work we do with government bodies that are exploiting the benefits of combining disparate information with data science. Driven by the right goals and approaches, public and private sector bodies are making serious advances in data analytics. Your work, from the Data Science Campus to Visual.ONS, shows your commitment to this and in driving data innovations for the public good.

If you embrace the powerful analytics engines that global enterprises and government organisations use, you will benefit from capabilities that are built for precision accuracy, with formidable scale and processing power. They are different from standard business intelligence tools because they comprise multiple analytic techniques – giving you access to the right tools for the right job, rather than a one-tool-fits-all approach. This will drive the quality and accuracy of statistical output – a key KPI of the ONS.

Another consideration in this new era of data privacy is that you’ll need technology that’s adept at pulling together data from multiple sources and ensuring that it will still be used in compliance with legislation. As well as analysing the data collected through the census, advanced analytics could be used to manage the Census project itself, quickly creating daily reports and budget updates.   

I know of several national and industry-specific statistics organisations that have used advanced analytics to cut the costs of running research while driving the value of statistical output. For instance, the US Census Bureau ran its 2010 census at $1.6bn under budget, yet 72% of people responded. The census team at Statistics Estonia was able to increase the speed of processes and do things more efficiently. The resultant data was much more detailed, increasing the quality of their statistical output, which means their numbers are more reliable. And that’s a great benefit both for the organisation and its customers and citizens.

In both these cases the organisations were able to paint richer pictures of their societies and economies for less financial outlay. If you’d like to see how we can help you to transform the value of your statistics, please get in touch.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Request our eBook ‘Transform ONS credibility, value and efficiency: Challenges, solutions and stories from the field’ or find out more here:
W: www.sas.com

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