Publishing census data twice as fast with the ONS

Photo: Eléonore Kemmel on Unsplash.

This post is part of a series: 2021 England and Wales census publication

Just over two years ago, on census day, millions of people throughout England and Wales filled in census returns, creating a common data resource of enormous potential value to central and local government, the economy and wider society.

Earlier this week, ONS released their “Create a custom dataset” product for census 2021, powered by our software Cantabular and delivered successfully through the effort of a lot of different people across the ONS.

As Jen Woolford, Director of Population Statistics at ONS, said in her recent blog posts, this new product puts the “power in the hands of users” to create their own breakdowns of census data and “has allowed ONS to release billions of anonymised census statistics far more quickly than ever before.”

Screenshot: ONS’s new “Create a custom dataset” product

Screenshot: ONS’s new “Create a custom dataset” product

Developing and integrating Cantabular

Cantabular has been developed by our team at The Sensible Code Company over a number of years. It combines fast cross-tabulation with automated privacy protections and structured metadata to create a unique kind of data publication solution.

We’ve worked very closely with teams across ONS to understand their needs and integrate our software into both data processing and publication processes. The culmination of this work is the launch of this new user interface, created by ONS Digital Publishing, that draws its data directly from Cantabular’s APIs.

The ONS protects the security and confidentiality of census data highly. As such we have not had access to the underlying data in our part of developing this new product.

Using data for the public good

Our mission at Sensible Code is to help the public sector use data for the public good. Seeing the census results published so much faster, and with so much more flexibility than before is a very satisfying moment for all of us.

As one user on Twitter put it, this is potentially the biggest change in England and Wales census outputs since the 1960s.

We’re now focused on our work with NISRA, helping them to launch their own flexible table builder for the 2021 Northern Ireland census results, using Cantabular.

Get in touch to find out more