Harmonisation case studies

These case studies provide you with examples of successful harmonisation from across government.

We will add more case studies as they become available.

The task 

Homelessness is a devolved matter in the UK. This means that each nation produces their own homelessness statistics. 

Each country collects data on the two main concepts of homelessness. These are:

  • statutory homelessness
  • rough sleeping

Data about these two concepts are published as official statistics.

Legislation and administrative data collection systems are different in each country. This means information about comparability of statistics and data is limited. 

The approach 

The Government Statistical Service (GSS) Strategy Delivery team and the harmonisation team created an interactive tool to help users compare official statistics. It also helps users to compare definitions of homelessness and rough sleeping. The tool:

  • provides comparison guidance
  • give details about the process a person may go through when they’re seeking support for housing in each UK country
  • shows how each country collects their statistics

The harmonisation team published a report with recommendations for improving comparability of homelessness in UK statistics. The report gives an in-depth overview of the comparability of homelessness statistics. 

The outcome

Users have accessed the tool more than 2,500 times since it was launched.

More information

For more details, see the Homelessness harmonisation guidance 

The task 

The National Survey for Wales is the main social survey carried out by Welsh Government and its partners.

Before the pandemic, interviews were carried out with people in their homes. Interviews lasted around 45 minutes. The team used Computer-Assisted Personal Interviews (CAPI) and Computer-Assisted Self-Interviews (CASI).

In March 2020 fieldwork was suspended. The survey was redesigned as a 25 minute recontact phone survey until December 2020. From January 2021 a new approach to sampling was adopted. A random sample of addresses was taken. Phone numbers were collected by using an online portal, phone book or ‘knock to nudge’ approach.

In July 2021 the National Survey began a trial to test whether a follow-up online section would be possible. The online section took 15 minutes to complete. It allowed self-completion questions to be asked again. It helped to increase the survey content without affecting data quality. The quality of the data can be affected if a phone interview is too long.

The approach 

The sudden change in mode gave the survey team the chance to use some of the mode-optimised harmonised standards. The redesign of the survey included:

  • re-structuring questions
  • shortening and simplifying text
  • reviewing introductions and instructions

The team made changes to the interviewers’ instructions, prompts and answer options. They produced interviewer guidance to explain the changes.

The survey team spoke to the interviewers regularly to gather feedback on the approach and questions. The team used mode-optimised harmonised standards. This included the harmonised standard for ethnicity designed to collect data over the phone. There was not much time to develop the survey, so it was useful to have mode-optimised questions that had already been tested.

Internal stakeholders from Welsh Government worked with the Harmonisation team and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to make changes to the questions. The ONS carries out the survey.

The outcome 

It is still a little too early to tell if the change in question mode has affected the data. Comments from field interviewers and respondents, indicate that the questions are working well in the field. No issues have been reported. The results of cognitive testing were also positive.

The survey team found that asking the harmonised standards over the phone does not take much longer than using showcards. This is clear from the initial analysis of the timing data. The survey team will continue to monitor and analyse timings, data and feedback throughout the 2021 to 22 survey year.

More information

For more details, see the National Survey for Wales. 

The task

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) are conducting systemic reviews of mental health statistics in the four UK nations. So far they have undertaken reviews of mental health statistics in England and Northern Ireland. The OSR also have plans to review mental health statistics in Wales and Scotland.

In the Mental Health Statistics in England review, OSR recommended that consistent definitions should be developed for publications. This would help users make meaningful comparisons between data sources. The Harmonisation team gathered information on the data landscape of mental health statistics to support these recommendations.

The approach

The team gathered relevant information on mental health. They then contacted stakeholders to make sure they had interpreted the information correctly.

The team decided early in the project that they would concentrate on adult mental health only and exclude data on Coronavirus (COVID-19). This was because of the different needs and requirements of the topics.

The guidance compares the use of mental health definitions. It also compares any relevant legislation and strategies. This means that the team can work out why certain terminology has been used.

Guidance on how to find mental health data in survey and administrative sources is available. The guidance includes information about how the data is collected. It also includes survey questions with clinical measures of mental health.

The team worked with stakeholders and users of the new guidance to make sure that it represented the four nations accurately.

The outcome

Users have welcomed the harmonisation guidance. It is a useful way of bringing together all mental health related data to provide a basis for future work on the topic. Producers of statistics are now able to use the guidance to get wider topic knowledge.

OSR has given the guidance their approval on Twitter. They said:

“Great to see this new guidance from @UKGSS. We’re pleased to see that recommendations made in our report on Mental Health Statistics in England have been included.”

More information

For more details, see the Mental health harmonisation guidance.