27th November 2006

This seminar was in the series arranged by the Census and Geodemographic Group (CGG) designed to bring the academic, research, and commercial communities together to build closer understanding in key areas of geodemographics. It succeeded in its aim of raising awareness of recent developments, and of giving insights from the different perspectives of the speakers. It also brought out priorities for the Group's activities.


The participants came from many types of organisations which create and use geographical information, and this underlined the widespread need for good information and high quality spatial analysis.

The eight presentations brought together speakers from appropriately diverse backgrounds, all acknowledged as leading experts in their fields. Their presentations were paired in the four sessions of the seminar, and moved from fundamental aspects of the framework necessary to structure information geographically, to means to draw out and enhance spatial patterns, and then to applications, with the emphasis finally on the challenges and current high priorities of measuring change and understanding migration.

Themes and issues

It was an opportunity to look for key themes and issues, varying perhaps from the spatial analysis of data gathered on the internet, to getting more interchanges between private and public sector sources, or to the pressing need for a coherent national government strategy on geographical information for the benefit of UK plc as a whole.

It was also an opportunity to show how the CGG is active across the field of geographical information, advising, lobbying, and providing knowledge resources, seeking views and feedback.

The speakers have made their presentation available below, and they welcome further contact, so this report does not repeat what is there, but summarises the main messages which emerged from the seminar.


National and sector priorities

The first session provided contrasting perspectives, on one hand, with Bob Barr's explanation of the reasons for the long standing failure to create a complete and accessible address list for the UK, the harmful consequences of this, and the substantial challenges remaining. and, on the other hand, with Emma Reid's description of the practical steps within a user sector to solve the problems of editing the deceased from address lists.

Bob was not optimistic that a comprehensive national list could be created, but, whilst sector based activity which could complement such a list should actively continue, wider developments are at something of a tipping point and participants were encouraged at the conclusion of the seminar to lobby for the national list.

Download presentation


Open geodemographics

The second session contained linked presentations on the relatively newly available ONS Output Area Classification (OAC). Dan Vickers explained its creation as 'open geodemographics' put into the public domain, and Martin Callingham showed how OAC could be linked with other data and how its performance could be assessed against other area classifications. Following comments that commercial classifications were also made openly available, and that the issues of doing OAC again in 2011 had not been addressed, the conclusion was that OAC would serve rather different customers, perhaps researchers not looking for fully supported marketing packages. But the way in which research with the open OAC could show how classifications could be enhanced was of potentially wider benefit.

Download Dan Vickers’ presentation

Download Martin Callingham’s presentation


Addressing pressing needs

The third session was about applications which addressed pressing needs. Marc Farr showed how geodemographics, blended with qualitative and creative interpretation, could help better use of very large resources in the NHS. Richard Webber described his 'Origins' system which derived information from names to provide data on national origins and culture, much needed in the rapidly changing societies of the UK and elsewhere.

This demonstrated the strength of the geodemographic approach, for example in synthesizing patterns from complex data, but also gave a reminder of the need to make sure that all those who use the results, particularly the non specialists down the line, understand the limitations of the coding and clustering techniques.

Download Marc Farr’s presentation

Download Richard Webber’s presentation


Benefit from joint ventures

The final session continued the health theme with Paul Boyle's account of how the launch of a longitudinal study for Scotland - representing a cooperative venture between government and academia - would be used to track a sample of individuals over time - answering questions that cross-sectional data could not - and also how a system of stable local areas had been created in Scotland. Nick Moon and Nick Butt described how data from the NOP British Household Panel Study was being used at Essex University to help understand the the causes and consequences of migration, complementing the simpler movement data from the Census.

This work showed how sectors could cooperate, and could make significant advances in understanding demographic change, but it also showed that there was still some way to go to bring the analyses down towards the more local levels of the government's neighbourhood level action and used in geodemographic applications.

Download presentation

CGG activities

The active role of the CGG under its chair Barry Leventhal was brought out. Peter Furness explained that the Group's Geodemographic Knowledge Base, as well as provided a very rich source of links to world wide activities, now covers the new development of real time geodemographics.

Barry told the seminar that the Group had recently submitted its views as part of the review of government strategy on geographical information - its note is on this site. It said that the prime requirement was getting a fit for purpose and freely available framework of addresses and boundaries to match the availability of statistical information.

The Group would also be fully involved in the consultation which had just been launched (www.onsgeography.net) on the future of local output geography for official statistics, driven by the preparations for the 2011 Census.

The overriding aim of the Group in these activities is to help ensure that benefit from the investment in geographical information is optimised for all users.

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