In our latest blog, Director General Ed Humpherson reflects on what OSR has achieved and our plans for the future…
At OSR, we are constantly striving to improve. We recently published our Business Plan for 23/24 which outlines our ambitions to support the transformation of statistics and support improved communication of statistics, and to build partnerships with other organisations that focus on the public value of statistics and data.
But as the saying goes, it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come, as well as where we want to be. So I’d like to begin by setting out what we do.
The Office for Statistics Regulation is the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority. Our role is to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics in the UK.
There are three elements to our role:
- how statistics are produced – conducting reviews on the statistics produced by government bodies, including awarding the National Statistics designation;
- how statistics are used – looking at how statistics are used in public debate; and
- how statistics are valued – promoting the value of statistics.
We do all this underpinned by a coherent philosophy. For statistics to serve the public good, it is essential to recognise that they are not just numbers. They must be produced by trustworthy organisations. They must be high quality. And they must be valuable to users.
Our maturity model
When looking at where we are heading we use a regulatory maturity model.
At the lower end the regulator is operating at a static level, checking the compliance of individual statistics. This would be worthwhile, but wouldn’t be at all responsive to emerging user concerns.
At the next level of maturity, the regulatory becomes more dynamic, responding to emerging issues from users. But it would be piecemeal.
To mature beyond this, and reach the next level, the regulator should mature to become systemic – thinking about how to foster and support a system of statistics that is responsive to users.
The highest level of maturity model goes beyond the statistical system and recognises that for statistics to serve the public good requires a whole culture of respect for evidence, data and analysis.
Where we are now
How mature are we, assessed against this model? We are certainly delivering our core regulatory programme – which shows we are meeting the basic level of maturity – doing a wide range of assessments and other compliance reports during the year.
We are also responsive to emerging user concerns – for example, about ONS’s excess deaths statistics; or the exam algorithms in 2020; or about the population estimates, a set of concerns that first arose around the city of Coventry.
But this is something we do only partially. In my view there is a way to go to be better at anticipating these sorts of user concerns, and being more skilled at doing deep dives into specific issues that are raising questions.
We are also increasingly systemic – addressing the ability of the system to meet user needs more widely; for example through our state of the statistics system report and through our campaign on intelligent transparency. And some of this gets into the wider space of a public culture of data and evidence use, for example our work on statistical literacy. We really should develop this further: it’s hugely important.
What people tell us
We continually ask for feedback, and as part of the recent UKSA mid-term strategy review, users completed a survey including questions about OSR. Stakeholders told us that:
– we should continue to do deep dives, but only if they’re done properly. The recent Sturgis review of our work (link) shows where we can improve in this regard.
– we should continue to challenge poor practice.
– we should increase our visibility, and champion effective communication – things we need to more of.
– we should build partnerships with other organisations.
These all point to us needing to focus at the upper end of the maturity range – to be systemic and outwards focused.
OSR: Work in progress
So what does this all mean in terms of our development as a regulator?
In short, OSR has come a long way. But we are not at the top level of maturity yet. There is a lot we need to improve on – and that’s the intention of our business plan.
We’re keen to hear your views about our work and priorities. Please get in contact with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know your thoughts, or if you would like a wider discussion with us.