Office for National Statistics invites potential new sources of data

Written by Sam Trendall on 8 March 2018 in News

ONS is looking for partners in the private and public sector with possible new sources of data

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The Office for National Statistics is looking to identify and explore the possible use of new sources of data.

The statistics agency – which operates as a non-ministerial government department – is establishing a dynamic purchasing system (DPS) with an estimated value of £8m for “data sources and services, including expertise”.

Any public or private sector organisations that might hold such data and is interested in working with ONS is invited to get in touch.

However, ONS indicated that it will not pay for data, and that any money paid will relate to costs associated with using the data, such as the need to filter and extract useful information from a larger data set.

The ONS is particularly looking for suppliers possessing data in three broadly defined areas: economy, business, industry, and trade; people, population, and community; and specialist data services.

The agency has already explored the use of various external sources of information, including mobile phone location tracking data, and its potential use in compiling employment statistics.

A recent exercise conducted by ONS cross-referenced the organisation’s own information on citizens’ journeys to work with Vodafone data on its customers’ movements.

ONS has also previously looked at how HMRC’s real-time tax data could play a role in the compilation of labour market statistics. 

Another possible example of a data source that the ONS believes could be useful to its work is electricity-usage patterns, which could help determine whether properties are inhabited permanently or only part-time.

The alternative uses of data are not intended to replace its traditional public surveys, but to augment them.

A spokesperson for ONS told Holyrood’s sister site PublicTechnology: “We want to explore how data that already exists could be used to help improve our statistics,” the spokesperson said.

“This is an invitation to public or private sector organisations to potentially work with us.

“We are already doing this, but there will be data out there we don’t know about and which could help us develop our statistics – for example, giving extra colour or timeliness to statistics.”

Any data sources the ONS uses will be aggregated data, with no personally identifiable information.

They added: “New data sources could make statistics better, more robust, and it might be that we can produce things in a more timely fashion.

“We have got to explore these areas, and what might be possible.”

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