ONS extends open invite to potential new sources of data

Office for National Statistics is looking for partners in the private and public sector as it seeks to identify and make use of ‘data we don’t know about’

The Office for National Statistics is looking to identify and explore the possible use of new sources of data. Any public- or private-sector organisations that might hold such data and are interested in working with the ONS have been invited to get in touch.

The statistics agency – which operates as a non-ministerial government department – is establishing a dynamic purchasing system (DPS) for “data sources and services, including expertise”. A contract notice went out last week looking to engage with organisations that may hold data that could be useful to the ONS.

The agency has already explored or trialled 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 the ONS cross-referenced the organisation’s own information on citizens’ journeys to work with Vodafone data on its customers’ movements.

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

The 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 germane to its work is electricity-usage patterns, which could help determine whether properties are inhabited permanently or only part-time.

The organisation that there are many more as-yet-undiscovered sources of potentially useful data out there, and wants to hear from any parties holding such data that may in interesting in joining the DPS set-up. 

A spokesperson told PublicTechnology that the alternative uses of data are not intended to replace its traditional public surveys, but rather augment them. This is of particular importance as the organisation works towards the 2021 census which, for the first time, it intends for most citizens to complete online.

“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.

The spokesperson added that the use of other sources of data could help improve the efficiency of the ONS’s work and, ultimately, its quality too.

“This is not about replacing surveys, but we want to avoid asking people for the same information they’ve already provided to, say, another government department, if we can use the existing data instead,” the spokesperson said. “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.” 

Target areas
The dynamic purchasing system has an estimated value of £8m. But the ONS indicated that it will not pay for data, and that any money that changes hands between the department and its partners will relate to costs associated with using the data – such as the potential need to filter and extract useful information from a much larger data set.

The contract notice sets out an initial length of three years. The use of a DPS model, rather than a static framework, means that new suppliers can be added throughout the lifespan of the deal. Existing suppliers can also add to or otherwise update their services or terms. 

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

Potential partners interested in working with the ONS can apply for the place on the DPS here.


Sam Trendall

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