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Can Big Data replace the Census? What does Big Data give us now?

The first UK Census was conducted in 1801, and has been repeated every 10 years since (with the exception of 1941 during WWII).


The objective for any Census is to understand and quantify population – but there has been increasing scrutiny of the cost and efficiency of the process over recent years; and opposition to the increasing number and range of questions asked. 


Around the time of the 2011 census there was a lot of conjecture that it would be the last of its kind – and questions around whether the vast amount of data and information held on individuals by the government and commercial organisations could be used instead.



There has been much talk about dropping the traditional population census and obtaining equivalent estimates from big data and administrative databases.

So when I saw that the MRS were running a seminar called “Can Big Data replace the Census? What does Big Data give us now?” I was keen to sign up and see what the experts have to say.  But for now I have an open mind.  Whilst I’m not convinced that the 2011 Census with its 34 pages of questions was entirely justified, or the best use of resources, I’m also sceptical about the degree of accuracy that will be achieved from pulling information together from existing data sets at anything more detailed than the macro level.


But this time next week I should have a clearer view on that, which I will share in a follow up post.

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