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What we learnt at... the Office for National Statistics Roadshow

Thierry Ngutegure , Senior Research Analyst

The author

Thierry Ngutegure

Senior Research Analyst

Jamie Crane, PR and Earned Media Senior Account Executive

The author

Jamie Crane

PR and Earned Media Senior Account Executive

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s largest independent producer of international statistics and publishes over 600 releases a year. 

The data from these releases is made available online and covers a range of topics, from healthcare to employment. The statistics available can be woven into all manners of stories and can inspire and support campaigns in a variety of sectors.

To find out the latest innovations in the world of research, we attended the ONS Roadshow in Leeds, eager to learn how best to utilise the incredible mass of data available. The day involved a series of presentations and workshops and here is an overview of the main learnings from a PR perspective.

Data, data everywhere

Comparison stories are the bread and butter of PR, comparing men vs. women, young vs. old, city vs. city. ONS takes such campaigns to the next level, making more robust and interesting comparisons possible.

At the Roadshow, we were shown the Hierarchical Representation of UK Statistical Geographies, which is effectively a large map of every authority that provides the ONS with data. The map shows exactly how the data can be broken down, which is brilliant for providing inspiration for brainstorms.

Whilst it includes some more obvious categories, such as population estimates, the map also revealed some more interesting breakdowns. As we were told about data geographies like police force districts, agricultural areas and national parks, campaign ideas were already starting to form.

As well as showing what sort of data might already be available, it also reveals the authorities which people can approach with Freedom of Information requests. This tactic can produce some insightful stories and the ONS Roadshow highlighted how many opportunities there are in this area.

All in the details

With the government relying on the ONS for its official GDP, employment and population statistics, it’s safe to say that the data available is as authoritative and reliable as possible. Whilst we were well aware of the reputation of the ONS, the Roadshow gave us new-found respect for its processes and output.

Every single aspect of its research, from the individual words used in questions, to the answer options made available to respondents, is scrutinised for years before making it into a finished survey.

One of the speakers gave the example of the ethnicity group question from the upcoming 2021 census. After public consultation, there were 55 requests made to change the options available to select. There was a strong user need to make amends, so after extensive qualitative and quantitative research, the changes were confirmed.

The Roadshow instilled in us even more faith in ONS data and understanding the extent of the work that goes into ensuring fair and accurate representation, we would always feel confident including their data in our campaigns.

The future

In censuses, ONS collects data from every form of residence imaginable. From people living in royal households to circuses to those sleeping rough, every single person is approached to fill out the form, which, again, opens up exciting possibilities for data led story ideas.

The census in 2021 is a mammoth logistical operation. Organisers aim to cover 94% of the population and will approach over 26 million homes across the UK. Over three million hours will be spent by researchers approaching residences, up to ten times each, in order to get maximum possible participation - the scale of the research cannot be understated.

The Roadshow highlighted just how useful the data from the ONS is to the world of public relations and we will certainly continue to monitor its releases for future inspiration.

Data and research underpin all our PR strategies, and when it comes to the ONS, we’ve incorporated their data in many campaigns. For example, for Best Western Great Britain, we used ONS population data to calculate how much the UK hospitality industry is missing out on by not allowing dogs to stay at their hotels, combined with a photo competition, encouraging consumers to send in pictures of their dogs on holiday. This led to coverage on publications such as the Huffington Post and the Mirror, to name but a few. The data element of the campaign helped to tell the story and show that the UK loves travelling with their dogs, helping Best Western to showcase all their pet-friendly hotels.

If you’d like to see what data ONS are due to release, you can view its calendar here: https://www.ons.gov.uk/releasecalendar

If you want to find out more about how to use data and research to maximise your PR strategy, please get in touch to find out more.