Can or Should Community Groups Standardise Surveys for Comparing Data?

The value of standardization

The other day while I was looking for survey tools for BOSF I came across a page on the Office for National Statistic (ONS) website with guideline on the standardisation for collecting data for Goverment surveys.

By standardising collection methods it is easier for users to draw clearer and more robust comparisons between data sources.

There are guidelines around demographic information, economic status, general health, ethnicity among other things. Their website says;

These sets of harmonised concepts and questions provide a standard means of collecting information about a given topic.

For example the guide to Demographic Information, Household Composition and Relationships gives a clear description on definition of a household….

The definition of a household is: One person living alone; or a group of people (not necessarily related) living at the same address who share cooking facilities and share a living room or sitting room or dining area.

….and then further explanation on the breakdown of the household and the structure any other questions should take.

Of course not every attempt to standardise leads to standardisation.  For example the ONS standard list for ethnicity (link opens as a pdf)  includes this:

1. English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British
2. Irish
3. Gypsy or Irish Traveller
4. Any other White background, please describe

The 4th one – “Any other White background, please describe” is a bit of a get out of jail free card when it comes to standardisation.

But it got me thinking, If groups use the same standards when conducting large surveys would that make their data easier to compare to government data, or better still maybe – with each other?

What are your thoughts?

Created under the Open Government License
Created under the Open Government License