The UK has a wide range of government surveys that provide sources of social and economic information. The Census of Population is the largest and best known but there are many others covering topics such as economic activity, income, expenditure, food, health, education, housing and transport.

These surveys were designed at different times, to meet different needs, and have been commissioned by a range of departments. Consequently, the surveys were developed mostly in isolation from each other. This resulted in a lack of cohesion. Differences arose in concepts, definitions, design, fieldwork and processing practices, or “inputs”, and also in the way results are released, or “outputs”.

A cross-governmental programme of work is looking into harmonising inputs and outputs. This is known as harmonisation and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) leads this programme of work. The aim is to make it easier for users to draw clearer and more robust comparisons between data sources.

This work is monitored by the GSS through the National Statistics Harmonisation Group (NSHG), who are responsible for development and maintenance of harmonised inputs and outputs for statistics. The NSHG feeds into the National Statistics Harmonisation Steering Group (NSH SG), responsible for the approval of GSS Harmonised Principles on behalf of the GSS Statistical Policy and Standards Committee (GSS SPSC).

NSHG Topic Groups, led by a subject matter expert, have been established to develop, review and maintain the harmonised questions, inputs and outputs (Harmonised Principles) used throughout the majority of government social surveys.

Much work has already been done with the harmonisation of the government social surveys and work is now taking place to look at harmonising business statistics and administrative data. The Harmonisation Team (part of ONS) has identified several business and administrative data initiatives occurring across the GSS that harmonisation can facilitate and is working with colleagues to develop harmonised principles as part of the delivery of these programmes.

For more information, please contact the Harmonisation Team


guidelinesHarmonisation guidance

A series of guidance documents and Harmonised Principles have been produced for use across the GSS. These include guidance on harmonisation (what it is and its aims), a Harmonisation Handbook, GSS Harmonised Principles, an introduction to the UK Data Service Variable and Question Bank and Harmonisation Newsletters and Bulletins.