Measuring the digital economy:  Adapting and Evolving  

Shot of user on laptop also using a phone and with a credit card as if online shopping

For over a decade, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has provided vital insight into the UK digital economy, tracking development across E-commerce and ICT use, Internet Access, Internet Users and Sharing Economy. As the pandemic has transformed elements of how we conduct business and live our lives, Emma Reed talks about how the ONS is working to improve our measurement of the digital economy.   

Having seen rapid growth in e-commerce sales, cloud computing services and increasing internet connection speed, to name but a few, survey data has been of vital importance in assessing digital development, playing a key role in informing policy. Reflecting advancements in the digital economy, data collection has been adapted over the years, with purchases via website or ‘app’ and the use of big data analysis (including data generated from social media) introduced in 2016 and 2015 respectively. In addition, the ONS has invested in the development of statistics on the  sharing economy, enhancing a programme of works to improve measurement of the digital economy.  

 Following a period of challenge for statistics across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed increased demands upon data and collection methods. As a result of this reprioritisation,the Internet Access survey questions were not included in the April 2020 Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN).  The OPN and Business Impacts of Coronavirus Survey (BICS) introduced at the start of the pandemic has given us vital information about how people and businesses have adapted during these challenging times. ONS also paused collection of the E-commerce and ICT activity survey for one year, affording the opportunity to enhance the survey to reflect emerging requirements, following an unprecedented year.  

 The evolving nature of the digital economy ensures constant adaption in responding to new and emerging technologies, placing development at the core of  providing informed statistics to users. We are currently running a consultation on how we can continue to transform and improve our measurement of the digital economy and we’d like to hear your views here.  

The measurement of the digital economy has never been more important and with your help we can make sure the ONS’s figures remain world class.

Emma Reed is Head of Development of Annual Business Surveys Statistics at the ONS  

Emma Reed is Head of Development of Annual Business Surveys Statistics at the ONS