ESCoE Conference on Economic Measurement 2022: ONS Renaissance Prize Winners


ESCoE Conference on Economic Measurement 2022: ONS Renaissance Prize Winners

By Joel Harris, Joséphine Precetti and Thaïs Nuvoli, ONS Renaissance Prize Winners

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) Renaissance Prize competition was launched to encourage and celebrate the development of economic thought and argument, using a statistical evidence base, among UK undergraduates. This annual economics prize, open to undergraduate students within ONS and across all UK universities, challenges applicants to reflect on the improved measurement of the modern economy.

The essay question for 2022 was, ‘Should measures of the nation’s capital stock be expanded to include types of assets that are currently excluded, and if so what measurement changes are needed?’ 

On the train to EM2022 at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, we began discussing how we ended up in this position. After all, it was a little surreal that we were on our way to present at a conference on economic measurement. Joel reflected on a time in school when his class was discussing the UK productivity puzzle. Fuelled on by the excitement of doing something other than work, everyone was taking turns blurting out their theories. And then one of his classmates proceeded to question the way we measure hours worked: something cliché about how British workers spend too long drinking tea. It was fascinating how long it took for anyone to consider how we measure productivity influences the issue.

Renaissance Prize winners with conference keynote presenter, Sir Charles Bean

Fast-forward to the present day and it is a phenomenal privilege for us to have been able to attend the ESCoE Conference on Economic Measurement 2022. As the world evolves and digitalises, and unfamiliar challenges arise whilst old issues resurface, the need to adapt how we compute statistics so we can best understand these is paramount. To be surrounded by those at the forefront of this conversation, and to contribute in even the marginal way we have, is truly incredible.

“Writing a research and policy paper on natural capital with Thaïs and Joel, participating in the conference in Glasgow and meeting some of the most prominent senior economists represents for me a milestone in many aspects. I assimilated the critical importance of understanding the complexity of economic issues through a global and multi-faceted perspective. Through this, it becomes possible to challenge with creativity and grit the conventional solutions to societal issues. To apply these key understandings and nourish my passion for environmental economics, I’ll be interning at the Centre on Regulation in Europe think tank based in Brussels and learning from energy, mobility and sustainability policy-making experts. After graduation, I wish to contribute as soon as possible towards shaping impactful policies for a better and more sustainable future.”

Joséphine Precetti, 2nd year undergraduate Department of Economic History, LSE

It was our first time attending a research conference, so being able to present a poster was a special opportunity. To discuss our work on natural capital with the plethora of distinguished academics present, was undoubtedly the highlight of the conference. The many rabbit holes our conversations led us down were incredibly thought-provoking, perhaps our favourite takeaway being a greater recognition of the crossroads at which economics sits. For so long society has only been preoccupied with producing more and more, yet now we recognise the sheer value of preservation. The degree to which they are balanced is up to our generation.

Renaissance Prize winners speaking to Sam Beckett, Second Permanent Secretary at the ONS and the Deputy Chief Executive at the UK Statistics Authority

“Since participating in the competition, I have had the chance to work with economic statisticians on the development of experimental indicators of climate-related risks for the economy. Our research on natural capital measurement has been incredibly beneficial in helping me adopt a critical mindset on statistical challenges often similar to the ones Joséphine, Joel and I had encountered. Aspiring to specialise in environmental economics, I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to present and discuss a topic I was interested in at the ESCoE. It opened the door to fascinating topics, and I hope to continue pursuing research opportunities in economics.”

Thaïs Nuvoli, 2nd year undergraduate Department of Geography, LSE

When asked to write this blog, we were given the unenviable task of choosing our favourite talk. But the more we discussed, the more we reached the consensus that we would like to highlight that given by the OECD Urban Centre in Paris (‘Monitoring Land-Use in Cities Using Satellite Imagery and Deep Learning’). In it, they discussed how they used modern technology including advanced satellite imagery and AI to collect, sort, and analyse spatial data, thereby informing economic policy recommendations. A need for greater development in spatial economics was so central to our Renaissance Prize winning submission, so to see it being developed in the real world meant a lot.

We are incredibly grateful to the ONS, ESCoE, and the LSE Economics, Economic History, and Geography and Environment Departments for supporting our team initiative and making this all possible. We are determined to carry forward the many things we have learnt from the experience, and hopefully one day we will be able to contribute back.

“Taking part in the Renaissance Prize and being welcomed into the conference in Glasgow have provided an unparalleled foundation to my young economic career. The skills I have developed in literary analysis, in critically examining and developing links between conflicting ideas, and in fostering a deeper appreciation for the breadth and complexity of modern economics have been invaluable. The added opportunity to since work as a research assistant at LSE, compiling data to be used to compute the return on capital, has set me up perfectly as now I turn my attention towards a dissertation.”

Joel Harris, 2nd year undergraduate Department of Economics, LSE

Joel Harris (Department of Economics, Joséphine Precetti (Department of Economic History) and Thaïs Nuvoli (Department of Geography) are undergraduate students at the London School of Economics.

Prize winning essay ‘Should measures of the nation’s capital stock be expanded to include types of assets that are currently excluded, and if so what measurement changes are needed?’

ESCoE blogs are published to further debate.  Any views expressed are solely those of the author(s) and so cannot be taken to represent those of the ESCoE, its partner institutions or the Office for National Statistics.


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