21st GSS Methodology Symposium

Methodology rubics cube slideshow

The 21st GSS Methodology Symposium 2016: Celebrating 21 years of innovation

The 21st GSS Methodology took place on Wednesday the 6th of July 2016 at the Westminster Conference Centre, 1 Victoria Street, London.

The theme of the Symposium was: Methodology: ‘the key to the door’ of innovation.

This year the GSS Methodology celebrated it’s 21st birthday. Consequently, the aim of GSSM21 was to celebrate ideas from the past, share research from the present, and look forward at the challenges facing methodologists in an ever changing statistical, technological, and data landscape.
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Morning Keynote Session: Tricia Dodd, Iain Bell, & John Pullinger

Chaired by Tricia Dodd, ONS Chief Methodology Officer, John Pullinger, the National Statistician, opened the event with the first morning keynote session. Drawn from a ‘crowd-sourcing’ challenge extended to all members of the GSS over the last few months John discussed what he felt to be the top 5 innovations in methodology over the over the last 21 years. The one number census (1996-2002) came top of John’s list, followed closely by the empirical approach to consumer prices methodology. Advances in time series analyses, small area estimation techniques and data visualisation completed John’s top 5.

John’s top 2 challenges were set out to remind us that we need to free our minds as methodologists, particularly when trying to measure new phenomena. As John said; “good science requires an open mind”, and “you will never get a good answer until you understand the question”. New techniques for new data and communicating uncertainty featured 3rd and 4th in John’s top 5 with John pointing out that “method must be the servant of analysis” and, in presenting statistics, we should “make our claims hit home, but do not over claim”. John’s 5th and last point emphasised the need to constantly learn new skills and develop the necessary training programmes to share them.

Iain Bell, the Director for Data and Education Standards Analysis in the Department for Education, provided the second keynote of the morning. In his talk, Iain illustrated how technology had advanced remarkably over the last 21 years. Iain placed technology and the methodology behind it at the heart of innovation, value for money, and customer friendly solutions; in short, better technology has helped enormously towards “Better Statistics and Better Decisions”. Some of Iain’s examples were extremely interesting. For instance, the 128GB of memory you expect to find in a basic mobile phone today would have filled most of the Albert Hall in the 1960s. It would also have cost 10s of millions of pounds to store that much information whereas a micro SD card today costs virtually nothing.



Afternoon Keynote Session: Ian Coady, David Best, & Evelyn Ruppert

Chaired by Dr David Best, the Director of ONS Digital Services, Technology, and Methodology, the two keynotes opening the afternoon session focused on other important aspects of methodology. Evelyn Ruppert, Professor of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London, talked about her ERC funded ARITHMUS project, which involves the study of several National Statistical Institutes, UNECE and Eurostat. Evelyn highlighted and illustrated the importance of gaining professional, political and public trust in statistics from a sociological perspective, particularly in light of a changing and often competing data sources, and political landscapes.

Ian Coady, Policy and Research Manager for ONS Geography, completed the afternoon keynote session. Ian introduced the concepts of ‘linked data’ and the ‘semantic web’ as methods of structuring and linking data so that it can be managed and analysed in more flexible ways. Ian outlined some of the key benefits this approach may have for methodologists in enabling them to extract greater value from data and deliver the modernisation of official statistics. Ian’s talk highlighted the importance of geography when looking at or considering innovation in methodology. As Ian said “everything happens somewhere”.

Parallel Session and Sponsors:

In addition to the keynote sessions there were four parallel sessions in the morning and afternoon of the symposium representing a wide range of topics covering theory, practice, and policy. Feedback from the delegates after the event indicated that this diversity was very much appreciated. Feedback also indicated that there was also wide spread interest amongst delegates in the stalls laid on by the official sponsors of GSSM21: The Royal Statistical Society; Southampton University (MOFFSTAT), and the GSS Capability Team.

A full programme of the days events can be found here:

Key Note Sessions
Methodological Reviews: In practice and in theory
Exploring the use of administrative data in statistics
Maintaining quality and minimising respondent burden
Advances in analyses: Utilising open source software
Advances in linking and matching data:
Improving the accuracy of statistical outputs
Towards the management of multiple data sources
Improving quality and trust in statistical outputs




And Finally…


A 21st birthday should always be celebrated with a cake and the GSSM Symposium was no exception. John Pullinger provided the ‘ceremonial’ cut that ensured delegates had something sweet to go with their lunchtime buffet.

Being the last symposium she is likely to attend as Chief Methodology Officer for the ONS, Tricia Dodd also said that she was “delighted to partner John in cutting the first slice on behalf of GSS methodologists everywhere”. I’m sure we all wish her well for the future.


On behalf of the GSSM21 Team, thanks to everyone who helped make the day successful. Please send any correspondence to methodology@ons.gov.uk

We look forward to seeing you again next year.