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Harmonisation Newsletter, No. 1

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Produced after the 26th September quarterly NSHG meeting


For each meeting of the National Statistics Harmonisation Group (NSHG) an information newsletter is produced. The information in the newsletter is combined with items and updates worthy of a mention between NSHG meetings.  The newsletter is circulated across the GSS via the National Statistics Harmonisation web-pages, StatNet and StatsUserNet. This is the first of a series of quarterly newsletters. If you have any comments, suggestions or queries please email


NSHG Topic groups (Social Surveys)

There has been little change to the leads and memberships of the NSHG Topic Groups. Several Harmonised Standards have been revised recently. The Housing and Tenure related standards and Demographic Information standards have now been published on the ONS website and added to the latest version of the A-Z of Harmonised Standards (also on the ONS website). There are minor changes to the Ethnicity standard and this is awaiting preparation for submission to the GSS Statistics Policy and Standards Committee (SPSC) for ratification.

Current NSHG topic groups include:

  • Benefits and Tax Credits

  • Classifications

  • Consumer Durables

  • Country of Birth, Migration and Citizenship

  • Crime, Anti Social Behaviour and Social Capital

  • Demographic information and Household relationships to include Civil Partnership

  • Health, Disability and Carers

  • Economic Activity

  • Educational Attainment

  • Ethnicity, Identity Language and Religion

  • Housing and Tenure

  • Income

  • Pensions

GSS Harmonised Question Library (HQL)

There is a slight delay in the launch of the GSS Harmonised Question Library (HQL)  which is being developed in collaboration with the Survey Question Bank (SQB). This was due to be launched in September but is now more likely to be launched November 2012. The reason for the delay is due to programming issues and the re-launch of the UK Data Service.

The Harmonisation Research Project

Phase one of the Harmonisation Research project documented the benefits and risks of harmonisation and used Disability as an example. Phase 2 will be complete by December 2012 and is looking into the feasibility of harmonising administrative data.

Harmonisation Roadshows

The Harmonisation Roadshows have progressed well and been well received. To date Roadshows have been held for all the Devolved Administrations, several Government Departments as well as other organisations. A further Roadshow is planned for ONS Social Survey Division (SSD) in Newport on the 14th November 2012.

Harmonising Business Standards

A meeting has been held with the ONS Economic Statistics and Planning Group (ESPG) to raise awareness and gain support and volunteers to begin to discuss the potential of harmonising business standards.  A workshop agenda has been agreed by the ESPG and the workshop will be held in December 2012.

Harmonising Administrative Data

The Harmonisation Team have put together a paper with the ONS Administrative Data Sources Team with a view to harmonise Administrative Sources.  The paper is the first attempt to identify the issues surrounding the harmonisation of administrative data. In an ideal world the solution would be an agreed standard or template for how data should be presented, but it is realised the benefits of doing this need to be sold to the data providers in order to get them to modify their process. It is also about gaining input and ideas to get people interested and involved, by demonstrating the advantages. Colleagues within ONS have been liaising with Other Government Departments (OGD’s) on this for some time and some preliminary negotiations have begun. It would be useful to evaluate the information coming out of these.  Harmonising Administrative Sources was also the main agenda item for the Annual NSHG Workshop held directly after the quarterly NSHG meeting on 26th September 2012. A brief outline of the NSHG Workshop is detailed within this Newsletter.

Integrated Household Survey (IHS) Status Update

The IHS delivery is on schedule and the April 2011 to March 2012 dataset has been released to the GSS and UK Data Archive on the 20th September 2012. Following the Spending Review, ONS had three module surveys which had to ‘pull out’ from contributing data to the IHS dataset. So, from January 2012, the IHS shall only be collecting data from two surveys – the Annual Population Survey (APS) and the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF). The IHS is consulting on reducing the number of datasets delivered to one per year, the closing date of the consultation was 30th October 2012.

Once the Census 2011 local authority estimates are published, the IHS will be able to re-weight the historic IHS datasets to this data. This will not happen until August 2013. The issue delaying this is the release of the Scottish Census data and not the England and Wales Census data, as it is based upon Britain not England and Wales.

Classificatory Variables

A paper was produced to  explore the idea of  whether a question could also be considered a classification.  In previous meetings, the terms ‘questions’ and ‘classifications’ have been used interchangeably. This paper was written to identify the difference between a question and a classification when discussing standards and classifications. It was thought useful to be able to come to an agreed position and it was further suggested that the idea behind this was to have agreed definitions so people are clear on what is being asked or discussed.

Proposed NSHG Steering Group

The proposal of an NSHG Steering Group was in response to the GSS SPSC (NSHG parent committee), requesting a review of the structure and membership of the NSHG. It was agreed that any discussion arising from 26th September NSHG meeting would be fed back to the GSS SPSC the following week.  The GSS SPSC later approved the NSHG steering group and a draft Terms of Reference (ToR) has been drawn up for the Committee to formally agree.

The NSHG Steering group may be helpful with raising the profile of harmonisation and therefore securing resources, particularly as a lot of what we do is ‘over and above’ the normal day job. Jen Woolford (ONS) has been appointed Chair/facilitator of the new group and Heads of Profession (HoPs), (yet to be confirmed), will become members. The new group will focus on creating a prioritised programme of work, targeted on GSS strategic priorities. It is hoped that by having a steering group the NSHG may become more GSS centric.

Crime Statistics Project

The name of the survey had changed from the ‘British Crime Survey’ to the ‘Crime Survey for England and Wales’ because the survey did not include Scotland. The requirement for European Safety Survey (SASU) is being questioned due to the cost benefit of the project and that the European Parliament has stated there is no need for the survey. Recent Crime statistics released received praise from Andrew Dilnott for the use of plain English and how it explained differences between the different measures of Crime.

Other news

Due to funding issues and cost saving measures, data for the National Travel Survey will now only be collected for England and the questionnaire will be reduced in length.

The dates of the next two NSHG meetings are:
Wednesday 5 December 2012, 1100 to 1330 hrs at ONS Drummond Gate, Meeting Room 3 and Wednesday 6 March 2013, 1100 to 1330 hrs at ONS Drummond Gate, Meeting Room 3.

Annual NSHG Workshop (26th September 2012)

Each year the NSHG hold an annual workshop. The objectives of this year’s workshop were to provide an opportunity for wider consideration, strategic thinking and exchange of ideas and to focus on one topic more deeply – Harmonisation of Administrative Data

The workshop consisted of presentations, followed by an overall group discussion and then further discussion in syndicate groups. The presentations were;

  • Harmonising Administrative Data: The Mandate (Jen Woolford ONS)

  • Feed back from the last workshop (Jan Thomas ONS)

  • GSS 2020:  Building the Community (Stephanie Howarth UKSA)

  • The Practical Challenges of Linking Administrative Datasets (Becki Aquilina ONS - on behalf of Carolyn Watson ONS)

The workshop identified the disconnect between people who collect administrative data and those who use the data. A workshop between departments, and even within the same department, with data collectors and publishers present, could be considered in order to bring data providers and data users together to highlight the issues. This would benefit the organisation as a whole and getting users on board would support our work.  Workshop members also identified administrative data communities and groups to liaise and interact with, and consider an International Harmonisation Workshop to discuss how other National Statistical Institutes (NSI’s), are attempting to harmonise administrative data This could be linked to the Beyond 2011 (BY2011) international workshop in some way.

As a result of the workshop, a revised work program/plan will be discussed at the next NSHG meeting on 5th December 2012.

All NSHG meeting papers and minutes are added to the GSS Intranet StatNet web pages under GSS Committees and can be accessed via the following link;

NSHG Newsletters produced by:
Becki Aquilina and Janine Jenkins
(Harmonisation Team)
Office for National Statistics (ONS)
Room 1400,
P015 5RR
+44 (0)1329 444017

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© Crown Copyright applies unless otherwise stated.