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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Designing boundaries for 2011 Census data and the next 10 years

Published: 12 November 2012

Experts from Geography and Environment at the University of Southampton have played a critical role in defining boundaries for key, small geographical areas which will be used to publish data collected by the 2011 Census in England and Wales.

These “output areas”, designed by Southampton Geographers Samantha Cockings, Professor David Martin and Andrew Harfoot, were recently released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). They will form the geographical base for an enormous range of decision-making and planning over the next ten years in England and Wales: from allocating resources, through preparing for national emergencies, to deciding where to locate retail stores.

Samantha led a project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, which developed methods for amending the areas which had been used for the 2001 census in order to produce areas fit-for-purpose for the 10 year period following the 2011 census. ONS have since implemented these techniques and produced output areas for the whole of England and Wales.
“For the first time in modern history, the majority of output area boundaries will not have changed between censuses, allowing us to understand how the population has changed through time as never before,” said Samantha. “The census provides a snapshot in time; it’s a rich source of information about households and neighbourhoods which no other survey or method of data collection achieves.”

The University of Southampton team also contributed to another first by developing methods to create a set of areas specifically designed for the publication of workplace statistics from the census. Prior to 2011, data collected about workers and workplaces were published for the same output areas as data about residents. This greatly restricted the amount of data available because businesses and residential properties are distributed very differently geographically. By designing an integrated set of areas based explicitly on the locations of workplaces, the Southampton research has enabled ONS to maximise the amount of data to be published from the 2011 Census as well as increasing the value of data about patterns of work. These new “workplace zones” will be published early in 2013.

ESRC-funded Census2011Geog Project website

ONS 2011 Census Geography products website (where the boundaries are downloadable from)  

ONS 2011 Census output geography website (which explains how the output geographies were designed and references the University of Southampton research)  

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