Obtaining data is often the most difficult part of any analysis as access to resources is often restricted to academia or to those who can afford to buy it. It is rarely cheap. Even if you happen to be a student who is in a highly privileged position to access so much of what is available, what you want may not be collected.
The data.gov.uk project was created in 2010 to make availability of data much easier. This could be a significant matter for freelance researchers and it’s hard to imagine why if you don’t use this sort of material. The move towards open access of data was followed by a second one which saw the discount of the cost off of the National Statistics Postcode Directory. This used to cost around £3000 a year and is now available for free. This is a very big deal.
Postcodes are useful as distance is not usually a trivial matter when analysing effects. Where you live matters as does where you shop, travel, send your children to school and work. There are many things associated with location such as funding, control, regulation, health regulations and other top-down measures. Being able to plot these, or map them as the case may be, is incredibly helpful.
There are some examples on the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis site of work that is being done with a spatial focus: Virtual London sees the creation of a three-dimensional model of London; Pollution Mapping sees the creation of a 2D/3D interactive air pollution map of London with a system that not only shows current pollution levels, but also predictions through to the year 2010; and the geo-genealogy project which mapped surnames across Britain.
The NSPD can be ordered by completing the order form and returning it to ONS Geography by email.