PopNation predicts household distribution to incredible level of detail

PopNation is a projection of people and households at a high spatial resolution to model, analyse and understand infrastructure demand. Before this development, the highest resolution information available was very broad, at local authority level.

Based at University of Leeds, Nik Lomax is an expert in modelling changes in demographic behaviour, and works on the PopNation project for the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC), a collaboration between 7 leading UK universities led by the University of Oxford.

Nik and researcher Andrew Smith received funding and dedicated project time through ITRC to carry out this unique work.

Complex calculations

The ITRC team are the only researchers in the UK mapping household projections to this fine scale.

Nik Lomax explains, “Our projections involve complex modelling and calculations which are difficult and time-consuming. We start with official data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and other official data sources. However, this data has a lot of uncertainties and is provided at local authority level.”

PopNation uses a research approach known as Monte-Carlo, which involves repeated random sampling to obtain numerical results which they then apply to the base data in order to identify household formation and distribution.

They then use a technique called microsimulation to produce projections.

Scenario modelling

As well as providing projections to a very fine level of granularity, by individual and household, PopNation’s modelling also allows a variety of scenarios to be modelled and produced. This means policymakers and others can now have bespoke scenarios created for a range of proposed developments.

This work on population projections is important and groundbreaking because this level of detail is unparalleled. It will allow much finer analysis when planning housing stock and infrastructure such as broadband and wastewater, which is provided on a per household basis.

PopNation’s work is also essential to underpin and drive ITRC’s other modelling work around areas such as digital communications, road and rail, energy, water supply and sewerage.

Real-life applications

The research currently focuses on the UK but the methodology could be applied to other datasets in Europe or further afield.

Policymakers, local authorities, construction and infrastructure companies have a requirement for spatial disaggregation in order to make planning and investment decisions, and consider options for infrastructure planning such as building new roads, siting new telecoms masts, forming policy and looking at impacts on health or education provision and outcomes.

PopNation’s data will allow policymakers and planners to make these decisions in an informed way which was previously unachievable.