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Making complex statistical information accessible and easy-to-understand

  • Official statistics are now accessible to the general public and, a summary report about every neighbourhood.

    Judith Jones, Deputy Director, Regional and Local Statistics

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is responsible for producing a wide range of economic and social information about England and Wales. Ordnance Survey mapping data, supplied under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA), provides a consistent geographic framework for collating, presenting and analysing this complex data.

The challenge

ONS wanted to put its growing number of datasets into geographic context so that it was easy–to-understand and relevant to users. Aligning this information with ever-changing administrative boundaries, particularly for very small areas, was a significant challenge, as was encouraging take-up and ensuring any solution would remain relevant with the addition of new datasets and become established as an authoritative source of sub-national statistics. The supporting geographic information needed to be well-established, accurate, up-to-date and available for reuse.

The solution

Using Ordnance Survey data, including OS MasterMap Topography Layer, ADDRESS-POINT and Boundary-Line, ONS first created Super Output Areas to reference hundreds of datasets by location. All are of a similar size, have a specified minimum population and, wherever possible, sit within administrative boundaries.

Super Output Areas provide consistent geographic boundaries for the collection and analysis of statistics at neighbourhood level and are used to underpin the Neighbourhood Statistics (NeSS) web service. Presenting this information against different scales of Ordnance Survey raster backdrop mapping provides an immediate, familiar geographic and administrative context for users.

By providing an accurate, consistent and stable geo-statistical framework for very small areas to underpin ONS census and other official statistics, NeSS enables meaningful statistical analysis between different places over time – regardless of shifting administrative boundaries. Data from different sectors can be reused to inform all areas of life at the neighbourhood level; for example, examining educational outcomes for pupils in different residential areas, housing conditions within local authorities or whether domestic energy consumption is falling in a neighbourhood of just 400 households.

By simply keying in a postcode, the general public can search, visualise and understand a wealth of data powered and linked by its geography. On entering the postcode, they get a summary report about any neighbourhood in England and Wales, covering topics like health, crime, demography and economy to better understand geographic variations in all areas of life.

The public can access interactive and printable thematic maps and create their own; while the use of standardised geographic names and codes mean advanced users can perform more complex analysis in their own geographical information system (GIS), completely free of charge.

This brings ONS research to a much broader audience, which can access and use the data free of charge for their own analysis, and has received positive feedback regarding accessibility, flexibility and ease of use. The NeSS website receives around one million visits a year across all sectors and the most recent ONS Stakeholder Consultation found that more than half of those questioned use neighbourhood or local statistics outputs for direct policymaking or advice.

The benefits

  • Presents complex statistical data for all local areas in England and Wales in a way most people can understand, underpinned by mapping from the PSMA.
  • Enables the first national, coherent, very small area statistical analysis.
  • Widens the use of government data in many new applications, particularly through the addition of the NeSS Data Exchange, which provides interoperable data.
  • Established NeSS as an authoritative source of sub-national statistics with more than half of customers perceiving it as the place to find data and derived statistics.
  • Saves customers money as they do not have to process or publish data themselves.
  • Improves customer focus – 87% of customers are satisfied with the service.

The products used

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