Professor receives top honour from Royal Geographical Society

Professor David Martin banner

David Martin, Professor of Geography at the University of Southampton, is to be awarded the prestigious Back Award (2015) by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

Professor Martin will receive the honour in recognition of outstanding research which has led to a new approach for compiling and analysing official statistics – in particular for the UK Census. His work to demonstrate the importance of small area data contributed to a government decision to retain the census for 2021.

He says: “I am delighted to receive this award; it is enormously gratifying to see almost any detailed map of the census published since 2001 and know that our work has contributed to it – effectively helping to shape every use of local census data from the last two censuses.”

Professor Martin’s research overcame major past problems with reporting census data. In the 1990s, information from approximately 4,000 areas of the UK couldn’t be reported, due to populations being so small they caused confidentially concerns for participants. Also, the diverse nature of information from different areas of the country made data comparison very difficult. These problems mainly occurred because the same geographical areas were used to collect census data, as to present the findings.

Professor Martin developed a complex model and algorithm which offered an entirely different approach to designing small areas for census results. By doing this he avoided the previous problems and enabled more comprehensive and inclusive data to be reported – information which has since helped underpin decision making in both commercial and public sectors.

David and his colleagues worked closely with the Office for National Statistics, who adopted the new methods (and subsequent developments) for the 2001 and 2011 censuses. The software at the heart of this approach is now used in 10 different countries.

Professor Dame Judith Rees, President of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) comments: “David Martin’s work on official statistics has made a significant contribution to both public sector and commercial policy. He is a most influential practitioner in this field and wholly deserving of the Back Award.”

The Award is given annually for applied or scientific geographical studies which make an outstanding contribution to the development of national or international public policy – recognising geographers who’ve had a significant policy impact with their research.

Professor Martin will receive his award at a ceremony on Monday 1 June, as part of the Society’s Annual General Meeting in London.