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Making our Family Food Survey data safe to use

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Open data

Our team is making progress towards publishing Family Food Data for 1974-2000. We have put together all the data and supporting reference tables into tab separated format. The next challenge we face is to make sure the data is safe to use, and as useful as possible.

We’re mindful that while this historic data doesn’t contain any direct identifiers, re-identification is still a risk we need to consider. We don’t want to take any chances. With this in mind, we’re going to give ourselves a few more weeks to work through a privacy impact assessment, and and disclosure control guidance from ONS, working closely with teams within Defra and colleagues at ONS. We’ll update you shortly via this blog about next steps.

What the data looks like:

Although this historic data is at household level rather than the raw survey diary data we have in our recent databases, it still contains variables which might result in secondary disclosure of personal information if combined with other data sources.

Households are described in terms of the age, sex and occupation of their members among other things, alongside geographic information at local authority level. We need to understand the extent to which our data could be used to identify an individual or household, if compared with other sources of information.

The chances might be very slim, but we take data protection extremely seriously - survey respondents are guaranteed anonymity, and breaking that trust could damage future response rates.

At the same time, we’re conscious that we want to make this data as usable and interesting as possible for people outside Defra. So taking the time to work through ONS’s disclosure control guidance, with input from users interested in our data, is important to us.

We have access to some external expertise at ONS, and a wealth of guidance online via GSS and ONS. We’re also reaching out to data users through some of our existing networks - if you’re keen to be involved, please get in touch via The guidance we have is comprehensive, but what comes across most to me is that this is a complex area, and also one where there is no unequivocal ‘right’ answer.

I am learning that what I thought I knew about this stuff is only the tip of a very large iceberg. It’s good to know we can draw upon such an enthusiastic community of experts and online resources to help us.

We’re continuing to move forward and improve the data – this is a busy but exciting time in the Food Statistics Team!

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