For the past year, it has been possible for anyone to browse through highly detailed online maps displaying 2011 census data for England and Wales, thanks to the University College London (UCL) ESRC-funded DataShine project. Now, the project has been expanded, presenting additional data-rich maps for Scotland as well.
‘Scotland’s not on the original one, because the Scottish census data was not released at the same time as the England and Wales data,’ explains James Cheshire, lecturer in quantitative human geography at UCL, and principal investigator on the DataShine project. ‘Also, some of the questions that were asked were not quite the same. There were many similarities in the questions, but there were some unique to Scotland.’
Therefore, Scotland was kept off the original DataShine project upon it’s launch last year. However, thanks to a commission by National Records of Scotland and the Scottish government, the project has now been expanded to include the population north of the border.
The maps themselves are rich and thoroughly engaging, presenting an immense visualisation of the country – an incredibly deep treasure trove of demographic information.
‘Where we’re at an advantage in the UK is that the census itself is extremely detailed – so lots of questions are asked, and the data released for relatively small areas,’ continues Cheshire. ‘Which means you can get the richness of information that we’re able to show on the website.’
So how innovative is a project like this? ‘There had been other census mapping online from the 2001 census,’ he says, ‘but they were developed relatively late on, several years after the census was released. We were the first – and still the only – website that shows all the census variables at Output Area level, which are the small areas.’
Of course, census data is freely available for anyone to view upon its publication anyway. But it is a significantly different experience to be able to do view it with such interactivity and cartographic visualisations.
‘We’ve made it a lot easier for people,’ admits Cheshire. ‘Conventionally you have to go through lists of tables that all have quite long complicated codes. Now, just by looking through the maps you get a window on the underlying data, and you can download that straight away.’