Census 2022: Transforming Small Area Socio-Economic Indicators through ‘Big Data’

Census 2022: Transforming Small Area Socio-Economic Indicators through ‘Big Data’ is a project funded by the ESRC Transformative Research 2012/2013.

Investigators: Dr Ben Anderson, Dr Patrick James & Prof. ‘Bakr Bahaj

Contact: b.anderson@southampton.ac.uk

The possible demise of the decennial UK Census presents social, policy and commercial researchers with both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to transform ‘census-taking’ by finding robust alternative methods for creating traditional (‘census-like’ indicators) small area socio-economic indicators over time. The opportunity is to transform the very nature of the socio-economic indicators themselves (‘census-plus’ indicators) using new analytic methods applied to new geo-coded datasets and to radically accelerate the temporal cycle from decennial to annual or sub-annual production. If we are no longer to be restricted to what can be asked in a Census, then what kinds of social indicators might we want or be able to produce, how regularly and what forms of novel social, policy and commercial analysis might this then underpin?

This project is addressing these questions using existing large-scale geo-coded transactional datasets held at the University of Southampton. These include household level energy monitoring data and the project builds on recent exploratory work to develop and validate methods for estimating small area ‘Census-like’ and ‘Census-plus’ indicators from telephone call records. The project will test the utility of a range of analytic techniques for deriving traditional and novel small area socio-economic indicators including relatively simple ratios and distribution measures as well as more experimental temporal sequence and profile analysis.

If successful the approach has the potential to radically transform the nature and temporality of small area indicators. Aggregated data from a range of transactional sources might be able to provide replacements for census-like small area tables on at least an annual basis thus providing a resource not only for temporally fine-grained small area social-economic trend observation but also fine grained local intervention impact assessment. In addition the sources may also have the potential to provide totally new but similarly temporally fine-grained small area socio-economic indicators that can provide radically new ways to investigate local and regional socio-economic trends. Potential examples include the estimation of social-interaction based indicators from social communication traces and social-sustainability indicators from energy consumption/production measurements.

Funded since September 2013, the #Census2022 project resources have initially focussed on data cleansing and preparation and explanatory data analysis. The project has attracted attention from academic, commercial and governmental sectors and has built an active project advisory/stakeholder group.

To see project updates and results click on the Census2022 tag.

Posted in June, 2013