Penny Babb, Head of Policy and Standards in the Office for Statistics Regulation, focuses in on the benefits of hearing others’ perspectives during our review of the National Statistics designation.

It’s good to talk – and listen

One of the things that I have enjoyed most about the work we have done so far in reviewing the National Statistics designation is to sit in on a couple of focus groups with members of the public. It was fascinating to hear about how important data are in their lives and the choices they make. And, also, their reflections about official statistics and National Statistics.

All of us can fall into the jargon trap. We strive to communicate succinctly but there can be a danger in every day words being used in very specific, narrow ways. That is true in our world of official statistics.

The focus groups asked some important questions:
What does ‘national’ mean? Is it a country? Which one?
What’s official? Is it when some company or school has released its official figures?
OK, the Code has the standards they must work to – how do you know they are doing what they promise to do?
So, the badge means that someone is checking?

While there were many questions, there was no doubt that it matters that official statistics use standards that are widely accepted and adopted. And, very importantly, are seen to have been applied. That means being able to show clearly that the Code standards are being met.

One sobering reflection was to underscore the findings of the Public Confidence in Official Statistics surveys – independence of statistical production and release matters hugely to users of the information. Trust was low in politicians, but confidence was high in the people producing the statistics.

The focus groups and roundtable discussions also highlighted that people want to understand whether the numbers are OK for them to use for their own purposes. That is a challenge for all of us working in official statistics – finding the ways to communicate clearly and meaningfully about the suitability of the data.

And that is something I am looking forward to beginning to tackle in the second part of our project over the coming year. We’ll be working with a wide range of experts and drawing on the knowledge and views of stakeholders across the spectrum, to ensure that National Statistics are the asset we all need them to be.

See the National Statistics Designation review in full.