Keeping your statistics (and your garden) sustainable

In our latest blog, Rob Kent-Smith, Deputy Head of OSR, discusses what statistics producers should think about when reviewing their outputs…

As Autumn has arrived, the keen gardeners amongst us will be pruning and thinning out fruit bushes and perennials to make sure that our gardens remain sustainable and to promote fresh growth in the seasons ahead.

There are some parallels in the world of statistical production, it is important that the range of statistics produced are sustainable, meet the needs of users and have room for growth to respond to emerging topical needs. The Code of Practice for Statistics provides a framework to do this and gives flexibility and support to make the right decisions in the right way.

Our state of the statistical system report found many good examples of producers developing new statistics and analysis to respond to the topics of the day, with recent topics including the cost of living and data on those seeking sanctuary in the UK from the war in Ukraine.

But additional work means additional effort and resources, and we are in a time where many statistics producers are facing tight budgets. To maintain this level of responsiveness it is more important than ever to review how statistics best meet user needs.

Here are five things producers should think about when reviewing their outputs;

1. The needs of users should be front and centre.

Producers regularly engage with their users; this means they know what matters to users and can make informed decisions on what statistics meet their needs. Producers are sometimes required to reprioritise and make decisions about their outputs at pace, so it is important to ensure evidence and documentation on user needs are captured and continually updated. For some decisions, this may be sufficient. However, we know the range of users some producers engage with could be wider so producers should supplement their existing intelligence with metrics they have on usage and impact. They should also consider whether additional engagement and consultation is appropriate, particularly when proposed changes are significant or there is a wider user base whose needs are not fully understood. Involving users in the process can help secure buy-in and support. It also enables users to understand the pressures facing producers to meet wide ranging needs, assist with making hard choices and identify options to mitigate any data gaps that may result. Sometimes, it is not always possible to meet the needs of all users, in these cases it is important to explain which users’ needs are being prioritised and what needs cannot be met and why. Our guidance on user engagement will be helpful to support you.

2. The same principles should apply to different types of statistics.

OSR introduced the term ‘Accredited Official Statistics’ to describe National Statistics in September 2023 – you can find more about this. Some producers have told us that they interpret accredited official statistics as being more important than official statistics or official statistics in development, and that accredited statistics should be prioritised when considering changes to outputs. However, decisions on prioritising statistics should be based on maximising the value of the statistics to users and in turn the public good, regardless of their badging. It might be that a new statistic in development could be a higher priority and more valuable to users than a long-established accredited official statistic.

3. Increasing efficiency or reducing content can be a good alternative to stopping outputs.

The Government Analysis Function Reproducible Analytical Pipeline (RAP) strategy, outlines an approach to improve efficiency in the production and quality assurance of statistics and analysis, alongside other benefits. Alternatively, reducing the frequency, detail, or supporting material of a statistical release can enable savings while better meeting user needs, this could be a good alternative to stopping a statistical release. In making these decisions ensuring the continued quality of the output is fundamental.

4. Communication of any changes should be clear.

It is important that decisions on the future production of statistics are clearly communicated to users in advance. These communications should set out the changes users can expect, the rationale for those changes, how the decisions have been arrived at and how users can engage with producers to feedback on the approach. Producers should include information on relevant statistical releases and inform known users through existing communication channels. For larger or more significant changes producers should consider a public statement that sets out their plans.

5. Get in touch with us.

Regularly reviewing your range of outputs to ensure they best meet user needs is an important part of ensuring the public good and we are here to provide guidance and support on how these changes can be best made following the Code of Practice for Statistics.

In line with our State of the Statistical System report, we will be doing more work in this area, aiming to improve the accessibility of our work and guidance on reducing outputs. But in the meantime, don’t forget to prune the garden!