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Automated zone design methods and AZTool software, developed at the University of Southampton, have enabled more efficient and effective collection and publication of official population statistics, which underpin evidence-based policy, planning, and decision-making.



Significant amounts of workplace data collected by UK censuses prior to 2011 were not published by the national statistical organisations due to confidentiality concerns.



Innovative automated zone design methods developed by University of Southampton geographers, along with AZTool software, were used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to design small residential-based geographical zones for the publication of data from the 2001 Census Output Areas (OAs) and Super Output Areas (SOAs).

The team’s research focused on methods for updating the boundaries of OAs and SOAs to simultaneously accommodate population changes, maintain confidentiality, and minimise boundary changes.

The team enhanced its automated zone design methods and AZTool software to enable design of an entirely new set of zones (termed Workplace Zones, WZ) for the publication of workplace data.



In May 2014, ONS was able to publish 21 detailed tables of demographic and employment data for workers and workplaces in each of the Workplace Zones, compared to just four such tables released for OAs in 2001 due to confidentiality concerns.

Following positive user feedback for Workplace Zones and a strong demand for UK-wide statistics, the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) requested the creation of similar boundaries for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Other organisations have adopted the concepts of OAs/SOAs and WZs/COWZ and have produced related data products. The new series of workplace-related data products has provided users with greatly enhanced insights into the distribution and characteristics of workers and workplaces at the small area level and is now underpinning planning and decision-making in a range of sectors.


More information

Institution: University of Southampton

Researchers: Professor David Martin OBE, Dr Samantha Cockings, Andrew Harfoot

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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2023) Better boundaries for the collection and publication of official statistics. Available at  Last accessed on: <date>