It’s beginning to look a lot like Census…

It may be too early to talk about Christmas for some – not for me. I have decided on the design theme, got my advent calendar, am close to finalising the Christmas menu and have started ordering gifts. I am all over it! And getting more excited by the day. 

Christmas means different things to different people, but it is certainly my favourite census related celebration. Weren’t Mary and Joseph off to Bethlehem to register as part of a census? Timely then as part of my, possibly a bit too keen, Christmas preparations, I am pleased to say we have published our phase 2 assessment reports for the 2021 Census in England and Wales and the 2021 Census in Northern Ireland. 

If you read my previous blog, you’ll know I have been leading OSR’s work on the Censuses in the UK and today is a bit of a milestone moment for me as part of this assessment. The publication of these reports is a culmination of a range of work which kicked off three or four years ago and it has been so interesting and rewarding to speak with users and stakeholders of Census data and statistics throughout –  it’s been an absolute gift!  

Our reports recognise the efforts of the Office for National Statistics and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency in delivering Census live operations and their continuing work to produce high quality, extremely valuable Census data and statistics. I wanted to take the opportunity to specifically thank all of the individuals and teams who have taken the time to engage with me and my colleagues as part of this assessment process. You have been open with us, kept us up to date with developments and have taken on board our feedback throughout the process. All the while getting on with the more important job at hand, working on Census itself. 

As we get closer to the festive season, I wish you all a well-deserved break and raise a glass of sparkling elderflower pressé to one and all.  

Related links:

Assessment of compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics – 2021 Census in England and Wales

Assessment of compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics – 2021 Census in Northern Ireland

I didn’t think I’d ever be interested in population statistics, but then I came to my Census

Ok so that’s not quite true. I’ve been working with a focus on population and society statistics for the past three years here at the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) and I love it. Working on areas such as migration, culture, wellbeing… it is fascinating. These statistics form such an important role in people, government and decision makers understanding and planning for our society in this country.

But even with my work hat off for a second, this is such an exciting time for statistics as we near Census day in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and work continues to prepare for Scotland’s Census in 2022. The Census is so important and a unique source of data. It will be used by many different people for many different purposes. For me, I think Census data can be most valuable when it is used to support how people understand their local communities, whether it be by local councils, community groups or even school students.  I am so eager to play my part and fill in my Census return – online this time of course.

Work hat back on and I have been leading OSR’s assessment of the Censuses in the UK. Undertaking this assessment is the role OSR has when it comes to Census data and statistics. We aren’t collecting the returns or producing the data but we are working closely with the Census offices to ensure what they are doing, ultimately delivering Census data and statistics to the public, is in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

We collect evidence from Census offices, speak with users of Census data, make our judgements on compliance with the Code; reporting on this through our formal assessment reports and public correspondence with Census offices. That is the nuts and bolts of the assessment process. The reality of the assessment and OSR’s involvement is that we are continuously engaging with Census offices as they are developing and delivering their Census plans to support the best possible outcomes. We meet with Census offices regularly to discuss their work, share our views on their developments, and talk through how they have taken forward our findings. It has kept me busy since 2018 and will continue to do so until well after the data and statistics are published.

This ongoing conversation as part of the assessment is overlaid with a more formal reporting structure. We have completed phase 1 of the assessment and are kicking off phase 2 for England and Wales and Northern Ireland. For each phase of the assessment, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) publish an accreditation report. These reports provide an update to Census users on how they consider the practices, processes and procedures for Census 2021 meet the standards of the Code. This provides OSR with evidence for our assessment and more importantly provides useful information on progress on the Census for all who are interested. You should definitely take a read!

We are always keen to hear from users of Census data and I have had some extremely valuable conversations with individuals and organisations to date – a big thank you if you have submitted feedback or if we have spoken in the past. As part of this second phase, we have opened up our user consultation once more . Your views and opinions are so important to help us understand what Census offices are doing well and how things could be improved. So please, do find out more and get in touch.

I hope you all are as excited as I am as we get closer to 21 March!

Improving and innovating: enhancing the value of statistics and data

Lessons from statisticians producing Children, Education and Skills statistics

Statistics are of value when they support society’s need for information; they should be useful, easy to access, remain relevant, and support understanding of important issues. To help deliver this, producers of statistics should commit to continuously improve their service to users.

I have been part of the team working on the refresh of the Code of Practice of Statistics. There have been various changes within the Code but without a doubt the area which I am most excited to see enhanced is the new Innovation and improvement principle. At the Office for Statistics Regulation we have always expected producers of statistics to adapt so statistics can better serve the public but now this expectation is crystallised in the code.

During conversations about the development of the Code I received several questions about this area and I felt there was a sense of nervousness about how it might be applied; this is understandable with anything new. The new principle is about having a positive mindset to change and improvement across all statistics production and dissemination processes. However, the practices which sit beneath the principle are not a prescriptive list of what must be done instead they should be applied proportionately depending on the statistics in question. As a result, how producers respond to this principle will differ in scale and approach. What is most important is producers’ motivation to improve their statistics.

I was keen to undertake a small project to help support producers of statistics get a better handle on what the Innovation and improvement principle meant for them. My colleague Louisa and I both focus on Children, Education and Skills (CES) statistics. This thematic way of working gives us the opportunity to better understand policy and statistics issues, and develop relationships with a range of users and producers of CES statistics. From our ongoing conversations we were aware of several innovations in this area of statistics, such as work to develop the Longitudinal Education Outcomes data which is relatively well known about. We wanted to find out more about other projects however, to learn about less well publicised developments or smaller scale projects which, nonetheless, reflect an ambition to improve the value of the statistics.

We started by asking producers of CES data and statistics across the UK to send us information on the projects they had been working on. We were pleased by the range of responses we received. The projects, whether completed or still in development, varied in scale and covered everything from producing statistics using Reproducible Analytical Pipelines to improved accessibility to data.  It was clear to us that improvement, whether big or small, was embedded in much of the activities of producers – it was great to hear just how enthusiastic producers were about their projects. We also spoke with users to get their feedback on some of the development work, to find out how they have benefited from the improvements being made. Here is a link to a summary of the innovation and improvement projects producers told us about.

Over the coming weeks we want to share with you some of the common themes that became apparent from talking with producers and users linked to these projects. Firstly, we want to look at the importance of collaborative working when developing statistics, then at the development of alternative statistical outputs, and finally at some of the common challenges producers face when improving their statistics. While these themes have come from examples taken from Children, Education and Skills statistics it is intended to give all producers of statistics a better sense of what the new Innovation and improvement principle might mean to them and highlight elements of good practice we might expect to see when assessing statistics.

As this review is considering innovation in statistics, we ourselves wanted to be more creative in thinking about how we would share our findings. Instead of a more traditional report, we are going to publish our work across a series of web posts.  We will also be exploring, with the Government Statistical Service’s Good Practice Team, how else we might support producers undertaking innovation and improvement work.

For now, keep an eye out for our forth coming posts, and if you want to get in touch, linked to this review or on CES statistics more generally, please do email.