The Office for National Statistics is finally waking up to our digital lives
Britain’s Office for National Statistics should be on top of all the latest trends.
But when it comes to digital, it’s sadly lagged behind, until now.
It was only a few months ago that the ONS revealed that crime in the UK had doubled, because it hadn’t been counting cybercrime.
Meanwhile inflation (via the ONS’s consumer price index) is still counted by an army of statisticians who roam the country collecting thousands of supermarket prices each month to calculate rising or falling costs.
And don’t even mention the census, a survey of the population taken once a decade, which collects demographic data Facebook probably measures on a minute-by-minute basis.
But the ONS admits it’s a digital laggard, and the office took a big step today to become more tech-savvy.
Big stats, meet big data
This morning the ONS cut the ribbon on its new data science campus in Newport, South Wales, the latest part of a £17m investment to update how the UK collects its data.
During the launch Tom Smith, managing director of the new campus, said the ONS would start looking into smart ways of using traffic sensors, mobile photo data and satellite imagery to better measure economic activity.
Smith told The Guardian that movement of smartphones can show migration patterns, both around the country and how people are travelling to work.
“Also the amount the phone is used gives you something around economic usage indicators.”
Smith also talked about how satellite images, or even Google’s Street View, could be a better way of identifying towns or villages in growth or facing deprivation.
The new campus will work with universities, governments, charities and businesses on developing how it can better use data to monitor and measure the UK.
The ONS digital campus is a long overdue addition.
ONS stats are the basis on which businesses, politicians, academics and individuals make their decisions. They’re quite literally the ‘facts’ of the matter.
Therefore to realise that the fact-makers at the ONS have been relying on long outdated methods of collecting such crucial data is concerning.
While you price-compare your online shopping to find a bargain on Amazon or ASOS, the ONS are counting prices by hand at the corner shop.
While Facebook dynamically measures and monitors the nation’s mood, movements and mobility minute-by-minute, the ONS relies on a decadely paper survey (there is also an online version).
Our digital lives are now more colourful, expressive and economically active than ever, and it’s high time the ONS realised that.
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