Mosaic for children

It’s OK – we haven’t gone all Dorling Kindersley.

A few questions. Are you a Corporate Chieftain, a Burdened Optimist or a White Van man? Do you live in a Respectable Row or Rustbelt Resilience? Maybe you have Low Horizons or Sepia Memories? If you don’t know, Experian certainly does. Its MOSAIC tool is a consumer classification system that divides all of us by postcode into one of 61 categories, of which these are just a few examples. See for yourself.(pdf)

It’s not just industry that uses the system. Apparently all of the political parties do in order to target their election campaigning. It’s used by public services to allocate resources.

The man who developed Mosaic has recently added another weapon to Experian’s armoury: software that tells you a person’s ethnicity from their surname – particularly useful when someone refuses to tell you.

And now for the children bit: the government has used Mosaic to code the entire National Pupil Database. I’m ashamed to say that we completely missed this story when it was first published.

It’s come to our attention because we received a copy of a paper published in the British Journal of Criminology which examined the use of Mosaic in predicting which schools are likely to have a large number of potentially criminal pupils (based on their postcode). It suggests that such schools could be made into crime prevention academies. Unfortunately the full paper can only be accessed if you have the academic ATHENS log-in, but you can at least see the abstract here.

The name of one of the authors might seem familiar – that’s because he’s the designer of the Mosaic system.

Somebody please pinch me. I think I’m having a bad dream.

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