In our latest blog, our Head of Casework and Director General set out the guidance and support available for navigating statistics during an election campaign, and our role in publicly highlighting cases where statistics and data are not published or presented in a misleading way.

Intelligent transparency is something we talk about a lot in OSR. It involves taking an open, clear, and accessible approach to the release and use of data and statistics by default. It’s something we care about deeply, as public confidence in publicly quoted statistics is best enabled when people can verify and understand what they hear.

Taking a transparent approach by default will be particularly important during the upcoming general election campaign, where statistics will likely play a role in informing decisions made by the electorate but opportunities for governments to publish new analysis will be restricted. This is because in the weeks leading up to an election, known as the pre-election period, the Cabinet Office and Devolved Administrations set rules which limit public statements or the publishing of new policies and outputs.

Official statistics are unique in this respect as routine and preannounced statistics can continue to be published during this time, in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics. However, given that the pre-election ushers in a period of public silence for most government department activity, the publication of new information should be by exception. Any public statements made during the pre-election period should only refer to statistics and data that are already in the public domain to ensure that the figures can be verified and to avoid the need to publish new figures.

Part of our role as a statistics regulator is to promote and safeguard the use of statistics in public debate. We do not act to inhibit or police debate, and we recognise that those campaigning will want to draw on a wide range of sources, including statistics, to make their case for political office. Nevertheless, we will publicly highlight cases where campaigning parties have made statements that draw on statistics and data that are not published or presented in a misleading way.

Our interventions policy guides how we make these interventions, but we recognise that election campaigns require particularly careful judgement about when to intervene. This is why we’ve published our Election 2024 webpage, which brings together our guidance and support on election campaigns. This includes new guidance on the use of statistics in a pre-election period for government departments which sets out our expectations for how they should handle cases where unpublished information is referred to unexpectedly.

Reacting to misuse is not our only tool. This election, we want to do more up front to help people navigate through the various claims and figures thrown about during an election. This is why we are launching a series of explainers on key topics that will cover what to look out for and the common mistakes in public statements that we have seen through our casework across topics which are likely to feature in an election campaign.

We are also working in partnership with other organisations and regulators whose vision is aligned with ours and who support the good use of evidence in public debate. Our hope is that as a collective, we can contribute to the effective functioning of the election campaign.

We are not an all-purpose fact-checking organisation, nor are we the regulator of all figures used in public statements. However, while we can’t step into every debate, we will take all the necessary steps we can to ensure that the role of statistics in public debate is protected and that the electorate is not misled.

Anyone can raise a concern about the production or use of statistics with us. You can find out more about our remit and how to raise a concern with us by visiting our casework page.