In our latest blog, Regulator Anna Price discusses our intelligent transparency campaign, and recently updated guidance.
There’s a line in the musical Hamilton which goes:
“No one really knows…How the sausage gets made. We just assume that it happens, but no one else is in the room where it happens.”
It’s about a meeting between three of the founding fathers of the United States to agree a political compromise. But it also reminds me of OSR’s intelligent transparency campaign.
When you purchase a packet of sausages you might well want to know how they were made. What are the ingredients and where are they from? Who made the sausage, and did they follow rigorous food and hygiene standards? The answers to these questions might be easy to find, but it could be difficult or even impossible. And the answers might matter a great deal – the sausages could contain allergens which mean they should not be eaten by some people.
When you hear a number being quoted by a Minister on the radio or see a figure used in a government press release, you may well have similar questions. Where does that number come from? How was it calculated and who did the calculation? Are there any warnings which should come with the number? Like with the sausages, the answers to your questions could matter a great deal. They could impact a decision you are going to make based on that number, like whether the bathing water quality at your local beach is safe for swimming today, where you will send your child to school, or who you are going to vote for at the next election.
At OSR, we believe that you shouldn’t have to be in the room where it happens to have a good understanding of, and confidence in, the numbers used in the public domain by government. Government should make it easy for people to understand and scrutinise the data it uses to make decisions and inform the public. This is what is at the heart of our intelligent transparency campaign.
To achieve intelligent transparency, government must:
1. Ensure equality of access
Data used by government in the public domain should be made available to everyone in an accessible and timely way.
2. Enhance understanding
Sources for figures should be cited and appropriate explanations of context, including strengths and limitations, should be communicated clearly alongside figures.
3. Enable independent decision making and leadership
Decisions about the publication of statistics and data, such as content and timing, should be independent of political influence and policy processes.
Our guidance on intelligent transparency, which was updated today, provides practical advice on how to implement these three principles. It highlights the role that all those working in government play in achieving this and now includes the following list of questions which you can ask yourself if you are using statistics and data publicly:
- Is the source for the figure in the public domain?
- Are there limitations or caveats which impact how the figure should be used?
- Is there context about the figure which impacts its interpretation?
- Could this figure be misinterpreted or misused if taken out of context?
- Would further support to ensure intelligent transparency is achieved be helpful?
Whether you are a producer or user of statistics, we would love to hear from you. You can get in touch with us for further advice and guidance, or if you are interested in working with us on our intelligent transparency campaign, via firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also keep up to date with all our work via our newsletter. Finally, if you are concerned about a lack of transparency in government use of data and statistics, you can raise a concern with us.