This item is archived. Information presented here may be out of date.

Winter 2022 harmonisation update

The GSS harmonisation team are restructuring to embed elements of their work into the future of population and migration statistics transformation work. This strategic move is part of the wider business planning at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and will position and prioritise the central harmonisation resource at the centre of the future population and migration system.

The GSS harmonisation team are currently prioritising research to update the ethnicity standard. The team’s plans for ethnicity and other priority areas will be updated once the ONS’ public consultation on the future of population and migration statistics in England and Wales has concluded. This will allow the ONS time to review this source of relevant responses from users about their needs. This information will also be used to inform their future research plans.

Back in February this year we published our Government Statistical Service (GSS) Harmonisation Workplan. You can read our previous blog post to find out more about the workplan and how we are responding to the Inclusive Data Task Force (IDTF) recommendations by putting inclusivity at the centre of our work.

This update is designed to show you what we have been working on and our progress since we published the workplan. We will also share more about our upcoming work and the publications we have been preparing for you to look forward to.

Our work since February

February may have only been a little while ago, but we have been busy updating our existing harmonised standards. We have:

We have also worked with teams across Government to create new standards. We have:

  • produced a new Welsh language skills harmonised standard — the standard provides guidance for surveys that wish to collect information on the ability to speak, read, write and understand spoken Welsh
  • worked with the Ministry of Defence and Office for Veterans’ Affairs to produce the new harmonised standard on previous armed forces service — the standard is designed to help ensure policies and services for veterans will be based on comparable data
  • produced a new harmonised standard for qualifications — this standard provides guidance on a wide variety of different qualifications, old and new, and it also gives guidance on how to present and report data on this topic

Innovating and working together

We have looked for opportunities to innovate, as well as join up with other departments across the GSS. We have:

  • worked with the Cabinet Office Equality Hub to commission research on understanding terminology for ethnicity data collection — we’re hoping to have the findings of this research in the new year
  • launched an ‘unmoderated card sort’ exercise as a low resource method to gather insights on ethnicity and disability from the public
  • used the in-depth knowledge of ONS survey interviewers — we asked for their thoughts about existing survey questions and their experiences of asking them in the field

We will be able to use this excellent research to further inform our standards and proceed with our work. But we will need to make some changes to our timelines for upcoming work.

Updating our timelines

While it is necessary for us to update some of our timelines, we remain committed to conducting high quality research and engaging with colleagues and users as we develop our standards. This will help us ensure the standards we produce are of the highest quality and meet the needs of our users.

We have assessed demand for our topics against our resources to ensure our work will remain sustainable and user driven.

Sex, sexual orientation and gender identity

At the beginning of 2023 we will:

  • review our sexual orientation harmonised standard
  • update our sex webpages to provide a suite of existing technical guidance for data collectors

We have shared our plans for future work in our update on harmonisation work on the topics of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. We will update our plans in Spring 2023.


We had planned to publish our ethnicity research publication in Autumn 2022 which will be reporting the findings on discovery exercises such as the unmoderated card sort and the data collectors and processors survey we undertook. This will now be released in February 2023.

We are also planning a follow up research publication in late Spring 2023 detailing the ethnicity terminology work we are doing with the Cabinet Office Equality Hub, community engagement work and findings from our interviewer survey. Following these publications, we plan to begin design of the updated questions in summer 2023.


Findings from our research and engagement work for the disability harmonised standard will now be published in early 2023.  We will then publish updated guidance for the existing disability standards. After we have published our findings and updated guidance we will undertake further research and engagement work before designing questions to update the disability standards.

Mental health

We will publish the findings of our research and engagement work for mental health in early 2023. This will be published alongside the disability research publication. From our latest research round, we have gained lots of information on mental health standards our publication we will pause to review how to proceed with our work.

Socio-economic background

The new harmonised standard for socio-economic background will now be published in Spring 2023.

Upcoming work

We have some new work for you to look forward to. We will:

Contact us

We look forward to continuing our ambitious work as the GSS Harmonisation Team grows.

Thank you for reading our update. We want to hear from many different users so if you would like to get involved with this work, please email the team at! We look forward to hearing from you and to sharing our next update.