What is intelligent transparency and how you can help?

Statistics Regulator Siobhan Tuohy-Smith discusses what we mean by intelligent transparency and how you can be an advocate for intelligent transparency across government and official data, statistics and wider analysis.

So what is intelligent transparency?

Everyone, I think, has a fairly clear idea of what transparency means. It means being open or clear – getting the data or statistics out there. But what do we mean when we talk about intelligent transparency?  

At its heart intelligent transparency is about proactively taking an open, clear and accessible approach to the release and use of data, statistics and wider analysis. As set out in our regulatory guidance on transparency, intelligent transparency is informed by three core principles: equality of access, enhancing understanding and analytical leadership. It’s about more than just getting the data out there. Intelligent transparency is about thinking about transparency from the outset of policy development, getting data and statistics out at the right time to support thinking and decisions on an issue, supporting the wider public need for information and presenting the data and statistics in a way that aids understanding and prevents misinterpretation. For example, the Welsh Government Chief Statistician posted a blog on understanding COVID-19 infection rates in Wales on 11 January 2022. This post went beyond just getting the data out there, by also aiding user understanding of the data to avoid misinterpretation. 

Why is transparency important?

For me, transparency is a key part of what we do at the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR). It’s a theme the runs throughout the Code of Practice for Statistics, from practice Q2.3 about transparency about the methods used, to V2.1 about ensuring free and equal access to regular and ad hoc official statistics, to principle T3 about orderly release, to name but a few.  

Transparency is also a core part of ensuring data, statistics and wider analysis serve the public good. Only by seeing the numbers, and understanding where they came from, can we really understand what they mean and how to use them to best inform individual decisions and understanding of an issue. Individual decisions about where and when to buy a new house, mortgage decisions, and what school to send your child to. Or public understanding about COVID-19 infection rates or a new policy around climate change.   

We highlighted the need for intelligent transparency as a key theme in our recent State of the Statistics System report and it continues to recur as a theme in our casework.

What can you do to support intelligent transparency?

In OSR, we continue to champion intelligent transparency and equal access to data, statistics and wider analysis. We: 

  • Are building our evidence base, highlighting good examples and understanding more about barriers to transparency to help support those working across government to implement intelligent transparency. Today we have published some FAQs about intelligent transparency to help support this work. 
  • Engage with analysts, policy-makers and the communications function across government, and interested parties outside of government to advocate intelligent transparency and develop networks committed to intelligent transparency. 

But we recognise that this is not something we can do alone. We need your help! 

So what can you do: 

You can be an advocate for intelligent transparency across government and official data, statistics and wider analysis: 

  • As a user of this data, you can continue to question what you see and ask yourself does it make sense? Do you know where it comes from? Is it being used appropriately?  
  • If you are based in a department or a public body, you can champion intelligent transparency in your team, your department and your individual work. Build networks to promote our intelligent transparency guidance across all colleagues and senior leaders in your organisation. You can engage with users to understand what information it is they need to inform their work to inform the case for publishing it; get in touch with your Head of Profession or OSR if you experience issues publishing statistics, data or wider analysis of significant public value or interest 

You can get in touch with us via regulation@statistics.gov.uk if you are interested in working with us on intelligent transparency. You can also keep up to date with our work via our newsletter.  

You can raise concerns with us via regulation@statistics.gov.uk – our FAQs about how to raise an issue set out what to expect if you raise a concern with us.    

Looking ahead

We will continue to champion intelligent transparency and with your help, together, we can help intelligent transparency become the default for all government data, statistics and wider analysis.


Related Links:

Regulatory guidance for the transparent release and use of statistics

Intelligent Transparency FAQs

Why migration statistics matter

Like many out there I wake up every morning hoping that a way, that protects life, has been found to bring peace in Ukraine. As it says in one of my young daughter’s books, “The world’s already far too full of cuts and burns and bumps”[1].

Unfortunately, the conflict continues and people from Ukraine are fleeing. On 10 March 2022, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that just over 2.3 million people have fled Ukraine since 24 February 2022. Across the UK there has been an outpouring of public sympathy for Ukrainian people forced to flee. The Government has introduced some new visa routes for Ukrainians; and debate continues among the public, in the media and in Parliament about whether the UK is doing enough to help.

As with any crisis, lots of decisions will need to be made. Decisions by individuals, by governments and by agencies and by organisations helping to support people flee Ukraine and build new lives. Data and statistics are a key part of this decision-making process. For example, to inform local and national emergency response planning, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published new data about the number of Ukrainian nationals by local authority and the Home Office has published the number of people applying for these new Ukrainian visa routes.

Here at the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) I lead on OSR’s work on migration. At the heart of my role is ensuring that data and statistics serve the public good. What does this mean in this context? It means ensuring that the best possible data are available to inform decision-making. And it also means ensuring data are publicly available to help the public understand the impact of decisions made, for example to evaluate the impact of new visa routes for Ukrainians and the impact this has on the make-up of society in the UK.

Earlier this month, we published the first in a series of reports looking at how the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is transforming the way it measures international migration. These statistics provide estimates of how many people are flowing into and out of the country from across the world and what the impact is on the number of migrants in the UK. The previous methods, based on the International Passenger Survey (IPS), had limitations so it’s great to see new robust methods being developed in a credible way and in discussion with expert users. Our report welcomes the ambitious and collaborative approach being taken by the ONS to transform the way it measures international migration and recommends some ways ONS can build on this good work. I would like to thank all those we have engaged with us as part of this work for their openness and time. I look forward to continuing this work to ensure that the transformed migration statistics are trustworthy, high quality and support society’s needs for information.

More widely we also engage with other government bodies responsible for the production and publication of statistics and data on migration. For example, we regularly engage with the Home Office, which is responsible for publishing a wide range of statistics about migrants. We have recently written to the Home Office about the publication of data on migrants arriving in Small Boats. In our letter we welcomed the Department’s plans to regularly publish additional data about this topic.

At the OSR we want our work to have an impact. That means ensuring that data and statistics are there to inform decision-making across society, the public, private and third sectors and to help hold organisations to account. This is at the heart of what I do as a statistical regulator at the OSR and at the core of our migration work. I just hope in a small way this can have a positive impact on what is happening out there in the world today.

If you would like to feed into any of our work on migration statistics please get in touch with Siobhan Tuohy-Smith.

[1] Donaldson J & Scheffler A, 2010, Zog, Published in the UK by Alison Green Books.