ONS kits out researchers with tablets

Written by Sam Trendall on 19 December 2017 in News

National statistics agency replaces gives ‘field force’ workers portable computing devices to replace pen and paper

The Office for National Statistics is kitting out its “field force” team of researchers with tablets computers.

The devices will replace pen-and-paper in the collection of data for the International Passenger Survey, a continuous study which releases data each month on the number of UK residents travelling abroad, as well as incoming visitors from overseas. About a third of the 700,000-plus interviews conducted by the ONS each year are used to compile information on travel and tourism.

Many of these interviews are conducted by field force staff (one of whom is pictured below right) at airports, seaports, and train stations that serve the Eurostar. These staff are now being equipped with tablets, with the total replacement of pen-and-paper methods due to be completed by April 2018.

Jason Bradbury outgoing programme director for ONS’s Data Collection Transformation scheme, said: “The new tablets enable questionnaire translation for multiple languages, improve question navigation while on the go, and offer the ability to correct and submit data with ease.”

Other initiatives included in the transformation programme include continued improvements to the Retail Sales Index – which, a year ago, became the first survey moved by ONS to an online method of data-collection.

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“The quality of the data has improved, [as has] our communication with various businesses. However, improvements to this survey are continuing and will see further transformation by October 2018,” Bradbury said. “The aim is to utilise administrative data, review questions asked, and expand the reach across sectors. It is early days, but we are ensuring that we are involving some businesses to test and explore options.”

ONS is examining the possibility of digitally conducting its Labour Market Survey on UK employment. Early tests suggested that it could achieve an uptake rate of 20% among online respondents – a figure which could be increased by offering incentives, according to Bradbury.

He said: “The next step is to test mixed-mode approaches – [such as] a combination of online and face-to-face interviewing – and then to conduct larger-scale quality tests in 2018.”

Bradbury added: “We have seen huge steps forward on the journey to transform data-collection within ONS. We are consistently improving the way we collect data. and are continuing to integrate surveys where it is sensible to do so. We are also exploring new avenues to access data sources, which will complement or replace data currently requested via our surveys.”


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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