2021-11-11 PS Interview Transcript

2021-11-11 PS (ONS)

Sat, 11/13 12:11PM • 30:30


ons, people, qualitative research, data, surveys, excluded, census, digital, taskforce, digitally, exclusion, digital inclusion, terms, bit, pandemic, evidence, online, laughter, gaps, publish


PS, Kira Allmann

Kira Allmann 00:01

Yeah, cool, because just just in case I miss something really crucial while you’re speaking, but yeah, so really my my first question which you kind of touched on was about that report that you wrote in 2019 on the digital divide. And I’m just kind of wondering if you could maybe give me a little more information about how that came about and how you chose the sources of data and evidence that you drew from for that report.

PS 00:31

Okay, so full disclosure, there was there was actually an internal piece of work that had taken place already to kind of compile an evidence pack. I think that there was presumably- a few months earlier, there was some policy interest in the issue and in knowing more about it, and as a result of that, another team in ONS had pulled together kind of this evidence pack of what we knew about digital exclusion, and some of the kind of the statistics and what have you. So probably, I didn’t exercise a huge amount of choice in terms of what we pulled- I pulled that article together super quick as something to publish alongside our launch. And it was more that we were aware that this piece of work had been done within ONS, but hadn’t been published for whatever- because that wasn’t the intention, but we thought it was interesting and should be pub- should be published. I have to say that some of the- the sources were the ones we knew of, and filled the kinds of evidence gaps we wanted to fill. So we did- but we did receive some criticism after we published about the Lloyds Banking survey, for instance, and the sample size for that. And obviously, it not being one of our sources, we had limited information around the kind of quality of that data, but what we were trying to do at that time was say, okay, this may not be perfect data, but it’s all the data we have on this particular area. And that’s kind of why we used it. So we did receive some criticism on that. And we’ve been slightly reticent to do something similar since then. [Laughter] So I’m super cautious, ever since then, but I think it was just an attempt to- yeah, to use whatever we knew. So where- where we didn’t have official statistics on a particular thing, what was there that we could use that might start to inform the picture a bit? So…

Kira Allmann 02:36

Yeah, and that’s actually a really interesting point. So like, at the time, what sort of- reading through that packet of evidence that you that you had on the issue, what data did ONS have, and what had to be filled in sort of from elsewhere, like with the Lloyds survey, for instance, were there sort of like clear, clear gaps in that?

PS 02:58

Yeah, definitely. I think the Lloyds data focused more on skills. So people’s ability to use the internet, whereas the ONS data is ‘do people use it?’ and ‘what do they use it for?’ So it was- those were the two things. It was kind of like, I can’t remember now what I said, but effectively, digital exclusion is multiple, multifaceted. So it’s, whether you actually do use it, whether you have the skills to use it, whether you want to use it and a lot of people said- and I think that that came from ONS as well- there’s well, if you don’t use it, why don’t you use it? And I think a lot of people just don’t want to, really. I would imagine if you now did that piece of work, you’d find something completely different since the pandemic because we’ve all moved online. And- but- and there’s also the issues of digital poverty as well, people who can’t afford to, to use it or don’t have the access and connectivity issues in different areas as well. So it is a multifaceted kind of area. And I think probably we have learned even more about that now. And there’s been a lot of talk about digital exclusion over the pandemic, obviously, as everything moved online and, and possibly people who previously relied on libraries and free Wi Fi in different places no longer had access to it. So I’m kind of aware of all those issues having come out since, and there has been kind of- I think there’s still a lot of data gaps in terms of what what we can say about digital exclusion, and hence the reason that the Inclusive Data Taskforce talks about it, because we’re still- yeah, there’s still a lot of work to do, I think.

Kira Allmann 04:34

Yeah. I didn’t realize I was muted. Speaking of digital skills. Yeah. So you mentioned that this was kind of a one-off report. It wasn’t really meant to be a kind of a continual, a continually updated thing. And could you talk a little bit more about why that was and sort of what’s likely to kind of fill that gap in terms of like, publishing on statistics related to digital exclusion kind of going forward, if there are any plans for things like that.

PS 05:06

So the reason that it was a one off for us is because of the breadth of our remit and the size of our team. So my team’s remit was kind of all the Equality Act-protected characteristics across all areas of life. So with a single team, we were hugely under- under-resourced, and so the digital excl- and as well as kind of groups of people that we expect to be disadvantaged. So it was kind of protected characteristics plus these others and digital kind of- the digitally excluded were one of these groups of others. So that was one article. We then wrote an article about exploring religion, looking at kind of different outcomes for different religious groups, we did one another, during COVID, actually, on ethnicity, so the kind of different impacts for different ethnic groups. And basically, the reason that we- that that was a one-off was because we were trying to do multiple groups, not just focusing all our attention on one specific group. In terms of plans- we don’t, I mean, my team has slightly changed now since the Inclusive Data Taskforce, I’m much more focused on their recommendations and kind of work to take forward the recommendations. And we have- yeah, we have competing priorities across the rest of the team in terms of what we look at. So we don’t have any plans to publish anything specifically on digital exclusion, other than the stuff that we’re gonna do with Government inequalities office, which is actually digital inclusion, rather than exclusion, which will come out- I’m not sure when that will be coming out, actually, but- so there’s no plan to produce an article like the one I did before. There are plans to continue to explore the issue, not necessarily by my team, but by others. We, one of the- we spoke to another team across ONS during the pandemic about including questions on digital inclusion on the survey on living conditions, which is another ONS survey, and they put some questions on just trial it out. But a big issue, obviously, especially at the moment is that we’re doing our surveys online. So are we in the best place to go out and collect data on people who are digitally excluded when we’re predominantly doing it online at the moment? So there’s all those kinds of considerations as well. And as I mentioned, we do have a new qualitative team now. And they’ve got several priorities, imminently. But over the longer term, it might be something that they revisit as well in terms of being more suited, perhaps, to qualitative research than our standard surveys. So…

Kira Allmann 07:53

Yeah, that’s really interesting. So like the standard surveys that that you deliver, what- how are those administered? Typically? Are they are they normally online? Or is that a COVID-specific…

PS 08:04

It’s COVID. Yeah, it is part COVID. But also, before- before the pandemic, we were- obviously the cen- the last census. Well, obviously, I don’t know if it’s obvious - it’s obvious to me because I’ve lived and breathed it for ages. [Laughter] But the last census was designed to be predominantly online-first, I think they said, and the majority of people- and that was pre-pandemic, that has nothing to do with it. So ONS has been looking at how it can kind of be more efficient. And collecting data online seems the natural thing. But prior to the pandemic, still, the majority of our surveys were face-to-face. But equally, the sampling frame we use for our surveys was private households, so that all the people who don’t live in private households, potentially more of the digitally excluded, we don’t collect data on anyway. So even before the pandemic, when we were out face-to-face interviewing, there was still limitations in terms of who we were actually capturing in our surveys. And whether we were missing big chunks of the population who were likely to be more digitally excluded than the general population, for instance. Although equally, a lot of our surveys tend to have quite an old age distribution. So older people tend to be more- fall more into that category as well. Although, as I said, things could well have changed now since since we’ve all had to do more online. So we might find some of those patterns have drastically changed. But there’s still a kind of- and that’s a big thing that came out in the Inclusive Data Taskforce and something that we’ve been aware of for years is the fact that we’re not capturing people who don’t live in private households, so- and they are likely to be more disadvantaged in multiple ways, so there’s a big push now to try and develop initiatives to actually start collecting data on them in whatever way is most suitable.

Kira Allmann 09:56

That’s interesting, and that seems like something that that may be very- of significant interest of the qualitative team, probably.

PS 10:05


Kira Allmann 10:05

Eventually. But it’s such an interesting point because the- sort of the data set that you have to draw the sample from influences heavily also, then what, you know, what data you subsequently get from the survey that you conduct, which is a really important point, I think, when thinking about like, data loops, basically, and how these things kind of replicate.

PS 10:25

Yeah, yeah, no, definitely. And, and it’s something we’ve always been conscious of, but- and the Census does a lot of work to be broader, to capture everybody. And that’s what we’re gonna try and hopefully learn from and build on the work that was done. But the thing is, the Census costs an absolute fortune and routine surveys probably can’t- we don’t have the resources to do that. So we have to be a bit more creative, I think, about how we, how we produce data and going forward. And that’s a big part of hopefully what we’ll be doing in the future, using multiple- mixed methods and different datasets linking and all the different things that we can do, to try and get this- get the data we need, without necessarily having to run a Census every year, which just costs too much money and uses too much- too many people.

Kira Allmann 11:19

Yeah, I mean, it’s a massive undertaking a Census.

PS 11:22

Yeah, exactly. It takes them years to build up to it. And then years to kind of wind down from it. There’s only a couple of years in between those 10 year periods when nobody’s actually doing anything on the Census. [Laughter]

Kira Allmann 11:33

Yeah. But I guess that this this year, since it was kind of digital first, and also, obviously, due to COVID, you know, conducting the Census online was important, what concerns if any, are there kind of around the digitally excluded and sort of getting counted in that sense.

PS 11:51

So there were- this is where we stray out of my area of expertise, because I only know kind of about the Census from what I’ve heard, rather than- and it’s probably the same as has been disseminated more widely. So here, I get a bit hazier, but I know that the Census put a lot of effort into ensuring that although it was online-first, that they were facilities, so you could request a paper copy of the thing, they went to- they engage with kind of homeless shelters and community contacts as well to try and reach people that that they might not reach just by online-first. So there were multiple initiatives that were undertaken to try and ensure that we captured as much of the population as we possibly could. And those are the kinds of things that I’m talking about that we probably don’t have the resources to do with our routine surveys. And that’s where we have to, I think, be a bit more creative, or all the kind of effort and money that was pumped into being able to do that for the Census, it’s not feasible really, to be able to do it in- much more frequently. And so we have to think more carefully about how we how we do that long-term, really.

Kira Allmann 13:03

Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. And you mentioned- you’ve mentioned the Inclusive Data Taskforce a few times, and I think that’s an interesting case, because my understanding is that the Taskforce is really about kind of inclusivity across data being gathered sort of, for a lot of different purposes. So it’s not exclusively about who’s online and who’s offline. It’s not a specific digital inclusion thing, but obviously has intersections with the issue of digital inclusion. Could you talk a little bit about the issue of kind of trying to be more inclusive in the data that’s collected broadly, sort of the remit of the Taskforce, and how that’s related to digital inclusion or exclusion, as sort of you understand it and your role?

PS 13:46

Yes, so the Inclusive Data Taskforce, a lot of people have kind of honed in on the fact that it’s telling us how to collect data better, but actually, the Taskforce were concerned with the whole data process from the person who provides the data, right the way through to kind of feeding back to that person on what you’ve kind of learned about them. So there’s- it covers things like trust and trustworthiness. So establishing that with with the respondent and how you collect the data, so making multimodes to enable digitally excluded people to participate, to enable people with different language skills to participate, and all those different things. So considering the kind of format and how you do things, to enable everyone to be able to participate, and then not just in terms of providing their data, but then during the analysis and then in how we disseminate it, so making it accessible to all as well, once we’ve kind of come up with whatever our findings are, ensuring that that is accessible to everyone as well, whether that’s in paper format, currently not easy to do as we’re all at home, but- or thinking about different ways of being able to disseminate that and taking into account a whole bunch of different characteristics of which being digitally excluded is just one of them. So it’s kind of- digital exclusion is encompassed in all these other kinds of characteristics that might need a bit more thought in terms of how we do data more broadly, and how data and evidence so- and then part of the work when- we did a huge amount of kind of stakeholder engagement to inform- to provide evidence to the Taskforce of what the issues were. And we included a paper consultation as part of that to try and pick up the digitally excluded in that as well. So I think kind of putting those- the things we did to reach as many people as possible into practice more routinely is something that we’re certainly looking at doing. So… Does that answer the question?

Kira Allmann 15:54

Yeah, yeah, it does. Yeah, thanks for that. So yeah, based on kind of your experience, looking at data broadly in your role, but also specifically the digital inclusion work, what gaps, would you say- like clear gaps are there in the evidence in terms of what we know about the digitally excluded? Like, from your perspective, what do you kind of wish we knew or wish we could measure better?

PS 16:20

Um, so I mean, I think that knowing that we’re missing a huge chunk of our population in our survey- well, it’s actually not a huge chunk, it’s- we estimate, it’s a really small chunk of the population who don’t live in private households, but potentially, that have have some of the issues that are most relevant to equalities. I think that to me is a big gap, being able to kind of fill the gap of people who don’t live in private households to know about their- how many of them are digitally excluded. I suppose understanding skills, I think, that that has progressed since I wrote my article. And I know that the, the Lloyds Banking people, I think, worked with DCMS, the Department of Culture- is it DCMS? Is that the right one, the one who deals with digital, anyway, maybe it’s not DCMS… I can’t remember which one’s the digital department now. I feel like it’s DCMS. Culture, Media and Sport. That doesn’t sound- where’s digital in that?

Kira Allmann 17:22

It’s digital. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

PS 17:24

Oh, is it digital,- department of digital culture. Yeah, that’s the first d. Okay, so DCMS, I know, at one point, they had a strategy for improving digital skills, and they worked closely with the Lloyds Banking Group. So I would hope that the data on that has improved. But I think- and I guess, understanding their experience, so qualitative research would be super interesting on kind of digitally excluded. And I became aware when we were kind of engaging with people for the Inclusive Data Taskforce, there was all sorts of really interesting work going on across academia, where they’re kind of finding different ways to speak to people who are digitally excluded and understand some of their issues, I guess, what it means in today’s modern digital world to be digitally excluded, whether by choice or otherwise, I guess. So, I think, yeah. I feel like there’s some fundamental gaps in our understanding of how many people and what the characteristics are of these people that are digitally excluded as a starting point. But I think it’s just a really challenging, challenging group of people to get data on. [Laughter]

Kira Allmann 18:36

Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, because obviously, digital exclusion is also a sliding scale. So like, how excluded somebody is on that scale is, is really, really tricky. So yeah, there are just so many, so many things, I think, to take into consideration there. And yeah, so I the I only have like two quick questions for you. I know, we’re right at the end of our meeting time, and I don’t want to keep you too long. But so one of my other questions is around kind of what would be helpful from your perspective in terms of bringing different datasets together? Obviously, one, one organization, one sector can’t really do it all on their own for a lot of reasons. And so it is important to be able to draw from different sectors. And you know, you’ve mentioned the Lloyds Bank survey, you’ve mentioned academia just now, these are these are sort of other folks working in these areas who have, like, a piece of the perspective on on the big picture. But you also mentioned earlier, which I thought was quite interesting that it’s kind of challenging when an organization like Lloyds does a survey, but you don’t know exactly how it was conducted or the or the sample specifically, very difficult then to know how to use that data. So as someone who works a lot with data, what would be helpful in terms of actually bringing these different forms of evidence together? Is there- is there some way that this could be useful in the national level that isn’t happening right now?

PS 20:00

I think that nationally, people are probably trying to do the best they can with with what they’ve got. So I think obviously, had we had more time to do the article, we probably would have engaged more closely with the actual people at Lloyds Banking Group, and understood a bit more about it. So I think an element of it was slightly slightly naive, but I think it’s just working together. That’s that’s a key theme of both the team I’ve been working on for the last few years and the Inclusive Data Taskforce, I think it’s just having those conversations and bringing the people together, who work on all these different things so they can understand kind of what each other’s- each other are doing and what the limitations are of the different kind of- because everyone, everyone knows that the limitations of the their own data, we all know what- what the failings are of our data. And generally speaking, we try to make them public as much as possible. But people tend to ignore the caveats and the limitations when you write them in things anyway, so they just skip over and are just interested in what you’re actually saying. But, but I think it is just all about bringing people together. And that that’s, that’s kind of the model that we’ve used in the center. It’s kind of- when we do a piece of work. It’s like, who do we need to involve in this? So who are the experts on this? And can we get everybody around the table? So we’re talking about it all together and having these conversations together. So- but I think that is happening more and more, I think.

Kira Allmann 21:29

Brilliant. Yeah. Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.

PS 21:32

No, no, that’s fine. That was it, I think, so…

Kira Allmann 21:34

Yeah. Great. And then my final question for you really is what you see as potentially the role of the Center for Equalities and Inclusion, which you’re a part of, and maybe ONS more broadly, in terms of tackling the issue of digital poverty?

PS 21:51

Um, so I think that’s quite a tricky one, actually. I don’t know if that’s a quick quesion. I mean, I think the ONS and my team obviously have a kind of our remit is about providing the evidence that’s needed to inform policy and the public in general. So I definitely- it’s definitely something, I mean, something that is talked about, you know, and so I have to admit, it’s not it’s not something that we’re just completely ignoring. But equally, as I said, there seems to be quite a lot of really good work going on elsewhere. So there’s- it’s about what value I guess can be added by ONS doing this. And I think possibly because of the nature of digital exclusion, and the fact that it doesn’t sit particularly, ideally, alongside our normal modes of data collection that perhaps ONS has less of a role in this, than maybe some other things, I don’t know, I mean, that’s only my personal point of view. And I don’t know what the line would be within ONS more broadly. But it does feel like there is scope for a lot of great work that’s going on outside of ONS to kind of be filling some of those gaps. That where maybe we don’t have the- I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s the expertise. I mean, we only have a small qualitative- we just got a brand new small qualitative research team within the Center. So there’s obviously a role for them now in taking forward qualitative research. But given that they are only a small team in the bigger ONS, I think that they probably have quite a few demands on their time, and I don’t know how quickly they’ll be able to get round to digital exclusion. So but I think that there is a lot of good stuff that goes on elsewhere. So if it’s already happening, I guess then maybe ONS doesn’t have as much of a role in that as, as other people do. But that’s just my personal point of view. Please don’t pass that to the media. “We shouldn’t be doing digital poverty!” [laughter]

Kira Allmann 24:03

Like, there’s no role for ONS!

PS 24:04

Exactly [laughter] And I don’t even know, necessarily. Yeah, I just feel that- yeah, that’s my experience, I think, and as things move forward, potentially and as ONS develops, new mixed methods, more mixed methods approach and responds to the recommendations of the Inclusive Data Taskforce, potentially we will have more of a role in that and I think clearly when ONS writes an article, people pay attention. [Laughter] Potentially that is a role that we we have in terms of even disseminating it that people kind of sit up and pay attention when ONS publishes something, so potentially we do have a role in disseminating stuff that other people are doing perhaps.

Kira Allmann 24:56

definitely, yeah. And just a quick point of clarification. So that qual- the small qualitative team that you’re referring to, is that kind of within ONS broadly or specifically the Center for Equality and Inclusion?

PS 25:08

So it’s specifically part of the Center for Equalities and Inclusion. So we decided, following on from the work that we’ve been doing, and some of the issues that we’ve been talking about today that we needed a team that focused on qualitative research. And it came out again from the Inclusive Data Taskforce that qualitative methods should be used more widely. And it isn’t something that ONS does a lot of, really, which I don’t know, may seem unusual to some people. But we tend to be more quantitative, generally speaking in our approaches to stuff. So we felt that there was a need for it within the Center. And hence, we created a qualitative team, so- specifically to work on on this. So- but as I said, hopefully, over time, as as our team kind of shows the value it adds that there might be more of that kind of- it feels actually already as though there are some other parts of ONS where they’re taking a more qualitative approach. They haven’t necessarily got dedicated qualitative teams, but they have kind of projects that they work on that are more qualitative, and the Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office as well has been kind of using qualitative research as part of the work that they’re doing as well. So it feels like it is starting to become a bit more. Yeah, a bit bit more common? Not common, but happens more often. So hopefully, it won’t just be our team in the Center that will be doing it going forward. There’ll be loads of people across ONS and everywhere else doing qualitative research as well. I suppose it feels like it’s a lot more intensive. And I mean, that’s the stats approach, though. And you don’t get a number out of it at the end, do you? It’s kind of- you can publish a headline with this percentage of whatever happened. But with qualitative research, it’s a bit more nuanced the findings, and that’s not something that, as far as I’m aware, ONS has been so focused on. We try we try to get get everything down to a number don’t we? Like GDP.

Kira Allmann 27:17

There’s value to that for sure. As a qualitative researcher, I’m always like, yeah, more qualitative research! But you know, there’s obviously- there’s a value, they bring different things to the table, don’t they?

PS 27:30

Absolutely. Yeah. And there’s definitely, as we try to move more towards administrative data, I think there’s definitely still scope for qualitative research to support the numbers that we put out. So…

Kira Allmann 27:45

Brilliant. That’s great. Well, I’ll leave it there, Paulo, because you’ve given me plenty of your time, and we’ve run a bit over our allotted meeting anyway. But yeah, just to say, I really appreciate you making the time to talk with me. And if it’s of interest to you, as I said, I think in my original original email, I’m very happy to share a draft version of the report that I’m writing on the evidence review, if it’s of interest to you, and of course, certainly the final version, so that you can kind of see what what I’m pulling together, if that is of interest.

PS 28:19

Yeah, that would be fantastic. Thank you, will we be named I suppose that’s my only be naming anyone.

Kira Allmann 28:25

I Well, it’s really entirely up to you. So if you’re, if you’d prefer, for instance, that I give you a pseudonym, or just say, you know, somebody in the ONS, basically, that that’s completely fine with me, do you have a preference?

PS 28:40

I suppose it just depends what it says I just have to be cautious, I guess about what the last thing I said about having no place to.

Kira Allmann 28:51

I mean, to be completely honest, how I’m probably not going to use that. But I’m super happy to send you the specific quotes I will use, if any in the actual report so that you can decide at that point, whether you want that like how you’d like to be referred to or how you’d like that quote, attributed that’s completely fine. So I’ll pull those out for you. And anything that you said so that you can you can decide what you’re most comfortable with.

PS 29:18

Thank you. Yeah, sorry, I feel a bit but I’ve just been burned a few times. I tend to speak without necessarily always thinking so.

Kira Allmann 29:26

Yeah, no, no, absolutely. Like I completely I think it’s I think it’s good practice anyway to kind of run this run this by interviewees. Anyway, so yeah, it’s no problem at all. And I totally get what you mean about having been burned? Yeah, this isn’t meant to be like a journalistic Expo say about the very much not that.

PS 29:48

Yeah, no, that’s great. Thank you. And I think I think it’s Yeah, me personally, I probably don’t mind what people what people know I’ve said but it’s me as a representative of ons. I just have to be a bit more I saw so thank you that would be great.

Kira Allmann 30:02

Yeah, absolutely not a problem at all. I can definitely do that. Yeah. Great. I will follow up in that case, in in due course with with that information for you. And yeah, thank you. Thank you again, and I’m super excited to see what comes out of the center. So yeah, good luck with your kick. Yeah.

PS 30:20

Thanks very much. Nice to meet you.

Kira Allmann 30:22

You too. Take care, likewise. Bye.