Data Journalism and the 2011 Census


The 2011 Census questionnaires were sent out to UK households from March 7th, ready for completion on March 27th. Because the census only happens every 10 years, this will be the first one since the rise of data transparency.

We can expect news organisations to extract hundreds of stories from the data, as it will be infinitely easier to access than in 2001.

The census in England and Wales is organised by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) so I headed to their website to see how the 2001 data is presented.

The datasets seemed to be deliberately hidden amongst hordes of useless tables. I clicked on a link to a dataset about National Parks and ended up with an incomplete table from the Questionnaire. What’s more, the statistics were in the notoriously ‘unscrapable’ PDF format.

No wonder the visualisations created from the data weren’t particularly sophisticated.

Take this pie chart from a BBC News Online article, ‘Quarter of children have single parent.’

Or how about the Guardian’s ‘Top Ten Facts from the 2001 Census’? A list of statistics in bullet-points. How things have changed…

You need only take a look at how the New York Times mapped the 2010 US census to see what outstanding data displays are now achievable.

The demand for open data will surely push the ONS to up their game this time around. According to the Guardian’s datablog editor Simon Rogers, the latest ONS release of data on ethnicity, sex, age and place in England and Wales could ‘take your breath away.’

And if that’s anything to go by, there’s much more data fun to be had when the census results are released.

Claire Gilmore (@ClaireEGilmore)

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