Data journeys in a research career #1: Will Shankley – finding the data gap for Polish post accession EU migrants in the 2011 census

will shankley

William Shankley, UK Data Service Data Impact Fellow and Sociology PhD Student at The University of Manchester, shares his journey on navigating the 2011 census and finding the data gap for Polish post accession EU migrants.

Starting my PhD

Starting my PhD felt like a minefield trying to decide what data to use and decipher the best approach to investigate my research topic. There is that initial excitement and desire to research everything linked with your topic. As previous explained, my research focuses on the migration of Polish people to Britain but instead of concentrating on their patterns of international migration my work examines their internal migration – looking more about the differences in their movement at a sub-national level. Initially, I wanted to research all dimensions of internal migration with the shape of my project oscillating between focusing more on their ethnicity or migration status. After much reading around the subject I managed to refine my project that was increasingly contextually relevant given the recent EU referendum and negotiations over the future of EU migration within Britain and across the rest of Europe.

Encountering Statistics

Unlike many of my peers, my background was not linear and I had not come from a sociology background – instead I trained in psychology, statistics and then international development. My experience in psychology meant that I was very comfortable with individual level data but was unfamiliar and apprehensive of using aggregate data often integral to censuses, social surveys, or administrative datasets. Realising the benefits of looking at migration from a mixed methods approach and given the relatively recent release of the Census 2011, I knew that this presented an unique opportunity to use this data. Therefore I had to confront my nerves and with the information and assistance of the UK data service navigated the extensive census data releases eventually ending up using the Census 2011 key statistics, micro data and commissioning my own origin-destination data file.

Statistics Essential to Migration Research

My mixed methods approach to migration research has come from two different avenues. Firstly, migration studies have often looked either at the patterns of migration using quantitative data or the experiences of migrants from a qualitative perspective and I wanted to bridge this divide. And use quantitative data to explore the patterns of migration and then the qualitative interview data to unpack and drill down into some of the factors that shaped Polish peoples’ migration decisions. Secondly, as described in my biography, I have come from a background where I worked with asylum seekers and refugees and I wanted to maximise the use of each type of data to tell a story about the migration very much from a migrants’ perspective. The growing scholarly interest in internal migration meant that it was vital to look at where people were moving from and moving to and some of the characteristics of those that had moved and the areas they were moving between. To set the scene, my initial empirical analysis chapter of my thesis explores the patterns of Polish peoples internal migration to gain a sense of where Poles were moving. Data constraints meant that I was only able to obtain data at a district level and therefore I wanted to maximise the analysis I could undertake at this spatial level. In an effort to engage with the dominant discourses in migration studies and ethnicity research I used a selection of categorisations such as the Defra urban to rural categorisation to examine if Poles were moving to more urban places or alternatively moving towards more rural places. Patterns observed among other groups were found to be dispersing but also counter-urbanizing and given the more recent nature of Poles international migration I was interested in observing if they followed suit.

Advances in the visualisation techniques used in migration research led to me to use circular plots and Circos to map my origin-destination data. Being previously unfamiliar with mapping techniques, learning these skills as part of my PhD showed me how visualisation were key to telling a story of migration.

Figure 1: Polish internal migration patterns between districts categorised by DEFRA urban to rural classification (Source: Census 2011 England and Wales origin-destination data)

Figure 1 shows that for Polish usual residents there are a plurality of internal migration patterns with the largest pattern being between the most urban areas followed by a smaller counter urbanisation movement from the most urban to less urban places. There were also two interesting patterns from more rural districts and these were patterns of direct entry into urban districts as well as a small but present population exchange between the more rural districts in England and Wales. The diversity of these patterns raised numerous questions about the characteristics of those that moved as well as their decisions to move which are explored in my additional PhD analysis chapters. My PhD thesis ended up by looking at the Poles patterns of internal migration between districts categorised by their level of diversity, deprivation, residential concentration and religious composition.

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