Today we publish the Code of Practice Stocktake Report.

Why did we carry out the Code Stocktake? After all, the Code seems to have served the public and Government well since it was published in 2009 – at least, this was a comment we heard from many of the people we spoke to as part of the Stocktake. But the world has moved on since 2009, especially in terms of the use and dissemination of data. We also had a sense that sometimes the Code is seen in Government as an inhibitor and a barrier. Therefore we wanted to take stock of how flexible the Code was to these changes and hear user views on how the Code works in practice.

Engagement was very much at the heart of the Code Stocktake. Substantial effort was devoted to successfully communicating through workshops, presentations and meetings across the UK. I want to thank those that contributed their invaluable thoughts and comments and the team that carried out the Code Stocktake – Richard Laux, Johanna Hutchinson and Tegwen Green – for their hard work and commitment. This rewarding and collaborative exercise has enabled the development of the proposals set out in the Code Stocktake report published today; proposals that have enhancing statistics very much at their heart.

We started the Code Stocktake by exploring what the Code of Practice is for. We concluded that the Code ought to be valued less as a set of specific rules and more as behavioural norms for providers of statistics. We heard how the Code ought to provide statisticians with a framework and a set of principles to help navigate the balance between serving Government and the public good. We have summarised these drivers as three simple, high level outcomes: trustworthiness, quality and value.

With these outcomes in mind, we explored the extent to which the Code could do an even better job as a guide to behaviour to those providing statistics to society.  We concluded that while the Code has been OK, it could be improved. It should be being clearer about what it aims to achieve.

For example, we ran a few sessions asking people who use the Code regularly (for example, statisticians within the GSS) to name the qualities they admire in statisticians. Things like objectivity; willingness to produce statistics openly and honestly even if the stories they paint a picture the Government may not want to hear; capacity to communicate complexity in a clear, convincing way.

These are human qualities that underlie the existing Code; yet somehow this human dimension is a bit hidden, and the current text comes across as a set of strictures. Reframing the Code around the principles it seeks to achieve, and why, would help move it towards being a more empowering and transformational document. This Code could then be supported by guidance (not rules) particularly in areas where users of the Code feel guidance would be most valuable.

This leads us on to a further question of scope. Here we distinguish between scope and positive influence. We want to maintain a formal regulatory scope as official statistics, which is what we’ll review and where we’ll expect full compliance.  But we’ll advocate the Code as a set of principles that can be applied more broadly, to a wider set of numerical outputs than just ‘official statistics’, but at the discretion of the providers. This reflects conversations we’ve had with analysts who said it’d be great if we highlighted the capacity of the Code to provide a guiding light: to enable trustworthiness in a wider range of published outputs in difficult or ad hoc situations.

To put it simply: the outcomes of trustworthiness, quality and value are universal aspirations for all people publishing analysis and data. We can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be able to draw on the Code’s principles as a guide, regardless of whether they are producing statistics or another kind of analytical output. Boundaries aren’t really helpful; it’s the outcome of public value that matters.

So our aim is for a more agile, flexible refreshed Code, which provides a framework, a set of principles, to ensure that statistics and other types of numerical information meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and public value. The detail behind this vision is provided in the Code Stocktake report, which we’ve published as an exposure draft to invite comments and observations on our proposals. So do get in touch and let us know what you think.