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UK's first ethnic and cultural classification

UK's first ethnic and cultural classification

A revolutionary new research tool designed to predict the ethnic and cultural origins of Europeans based on their name has been launched by Experian.

Mosaic Origins has been developed with the assistance of Professor Richard Webber from University College London, and is designed to help organisations in the public sector understand the cultural, ethnic and linguistic origins of their users, customers and employees.

Mosaic Origins has been developed using pattern recognition techniques to identify the ethnic and cultural origins of almost a million family and first names in use in the European community.

Each name is linked to a part of the world where, based on a probability score, the holder, or the holder’s forebears, are likely to have originated.

Mosaic Origins is available as a simple desk-top software application that enables organisations to code, profile and target communications to their customer lists, users or employees.

Working at the person level, Mosaic Origins is a far more detailed and accurate source of information than the Census, the only other comprehensive source of information about Britain’s minority ethnic groups.



It can also be used at a postcode level to identify the communities where particular minority groups have established themselves.

Professor Richard Webber, said, “Looking at Britain we can see that, over the past hundred years, the stock of British personal and family names has become even more diverse.

“Waves of Jewish and Armenian political refugees have been followed by the arrival of economic migrants from the Caribbean, South Asia and China. 

He continued, “More recently the stock of names has been extended to include significant numbers from Somalia, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Kurdistan and other regions of the world affected by civil war or political instability and, in the last two years, people from the EU accession states.

“However even in Victorian times, Britain was a multi-cultural amalgam.  The Irish, Welsh and Scots and even those from the remote regions of Britain brought their own cultures and practices with them.”

Mosaic Origins has many positive applications including:

Diversity and Equal Opportunities

In order to comply with the requirements of equal opportunities legislation many organisations require their employees to fill in a form stating their ethnic origin.


This allows the organisation to identify the extent to which its recruitment practices result in an employee payroll which broadly reflects the profile of the national population, and hence the fairness of its recruitment practices.

The information can also provide important evidence of the extent to which minorities may be discriminated against in terms of career advancement.


This can be done by comparing the profile of employees at higher (or lower) levels in the organisation with the organisation’s overall profile.

Health Promotion

Minorities vary very greatly in terms of their health risks.  South Asians for example are particularly susceptible to diabetes, Black Caribbeans to sickle cell anaemia.

Including information on the ethnicity of individual patients on the registers of general practices is very helpful both in identifying practices with high proportions of patients at risk of specific illnesses (and through whom generic campaigns can be targeted) and for identifying individual patients for whom particular screening campaigns are particularly appropriate.

Government data sets

Government policy and local performance indicators rely increasingly on the creation and updating of administrative datasets, many of which already require self reported information about ethnicity.

Datasets that are already coded by ethnicity include the Pupil Level Annual School Census (PLASC), the Hospital Episode Statistics (HES), the UCAS University Admissions database.  Databases of this sort are typically used to create statistics showing the relationship between ethnicity and service outcomes.

Market research

In order to minimise non response most questionnaire based research surveys do not include ethnicity questions, even though they do include age, gender and income.  The coding of these surveys by ethnicity is of considerable value to understanding the consumption patterns, attitudes and preferences of ethnic minority groups.

An ESRC project run by Kings College London has found that the coding of the electoral register by origins has also considerably improved the efficiency with which it was able to select research samples for surveys of attitudes among minority groups as well as making the research samples more representative of these communities.

Commercial applications

Whilst commercial organisations have a responsibility not to use ethnicity data to disadvantage minority groups it is self evident that there are a number of products, relevant to minority groups, that could be more efficiently promoted were the identity of customers better known.

Examples of these are savings products which meet the strict requirements of Muslim religious law, TV channels meeting the needs of specific language groups and certain supermarket products which meet the specific dietary requirements of particular religious groups.

The use of Mosaic Origins is tightly controlled under licence by Experian and all applications will be assessed and vetted before any licences are granted.

Whilst we recognise the many positive applications for Mosaic Origins in both the public and private sector, strict protocols exist controlling its use to ensure no contravention of legislation occurs and particularly that it not used by organisations to discriminate against any ethnic or racial minorities.
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