UK Census Data To Move Online: A fortnight ago business users across the UK waited with baited breath as the fate of the 200-year-old census was decided. Fortunately for many, the UK’s statistics authorities have opted against scrapping the data and are instead looking to implement an online questionnaire to replace the traditional paper form.

Britain’s 10-yearly census offers the most accurate and sweeping picture of a nation undergoing profound changes. The latest one, in 2011, revealed a country more populous, less religious and more diverse than ever before.

Prior to the roll-out of the 2011 census, the UK Statistics Authority asked the National Statistician and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to review the future provision of population statistics in England and Wales, to inform the British Government and parliament about the options for the next (2021) census.

On the back of this review the ONS reported that considering an online route or using existing administrative data combined with a ‘rolling’ annual survey conducted among 4% of the population could be a possibility.

Jane Frost, Chief Executive Officer of the Market Research Society (MRS), said:

“While the decision to move the Census to a predominantly online format is consistent with technological developments it is not without its risks.  One of the benefits of the Census is that it provides solid evidential data to identify ‘hidden groups’ in society, but these groups won’t necessarily have access to technology…”

While extremely complex, the census can, if used correctly, provide high levels of consumer segmentation, allowing for a greater level of targeting and consequently more relevant marketing for customers, improving the customers experience with a brand or company. This would particularly be the case if 4% of the population were to be surveyed each year, as this would mean that the data was, to some extent, more up to date than simply being correct at the time of the last census.

However, we at Localise must agree to some extent with Jane Frost’s comments, and provision must be made for those groups who may struggle to fill in an online census – for instance, houses without access to the internet. We strongly support the Government’s decision to continue a nationwide survey of the population, as this allows for changes in population make up to be tracked, and also guards against the invisible creation of a ‘hidden-class’ of individuals who are not accounted for within public sector agendas around schooling, healthcare and housing. These people might include those who worked cash in hand jobs and did not have a bank account for instance – people who we would not be able to keep aware of through more traditional channels.

Localise is a regional and sub-regional consumer and customer profiling tool which has the ability to truly understand you customers and target audience, identifying who they are and where they live to levels of detail as precise as a single street.

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