2020 was a year in which statistics and data were at the centre of public life. We became a nation of armchair epidemiologists.
There’s no sign that this will change in 2021. We expect statistics to remain in the public eye with the pandemic continuing to effect all aspects of life, a national COVID-19 vaccination programme, EU departure, the decennial Census, and Scottish and Welsh elections.
Statistics and evidence remain crucial to managing the current pandemic and understanding its impacts on the economy and society. This meant that 2020 was very busy for us at the Office for Statistics Regulation.
Our Annual Casework report gave some indication of the noticeably higher volume of ‘use of statistics issues’ being reported to us, as questions and queries about numbers and their uses increased in what proved to be our busiest year to date. In the light of this experience, at the end of 2020 we updated our Interventions Policy and supporting FAQs which clarifies the context for interventions that we have made and will make going forward.
At OSR we cover a huge range of issues. Our 2020 assessments and reviews illustrate this. We highlighted the need for significant improvements in the statistics, including adult social care, employment, poverty, and business demography to name a few.
OSR in 2021
We will continue to review the use of statistics in the pandemic, and have some high profile reports due for publication, including our review on developing statistical models to calculate exam grades, one of the most high profile examples of statistics in the public eye in recent times. We will also publish our report on statistical leadership in the public sector.
Our work in 2021 will include:
Data gaps and the public good
Granularity of statistics
We will clarify our expectations of producers to provide more granular data, including data broken down by key characteristics and geographies. It is important that statistics reflect society and that people can see themselves in the statistics available.
Our role in data
We will be developing our thinking on our role in regulation of data. This will build on projects underway, including the exam grade review, and help us determine how far and how regularly we want to focus our regulatory work beyond official statistics. We will also seek to maintain trust in National Statistics and continue to focus on this core aspect of our regulatory work programme.
The pandemic has led to significant changes to how data are produced and what is available, and the departure from the EU may have significant impacts too. We will consider the implications of some of the decisions being made and what this means for our judgement of quality of statistics. One area we will consider for an early review following EU departure is ONS decisions on the classification of organisations to the public and private sector. There are new governance arrangements covering these decisions and it is important that the arrangements are effective and command user confidence.
We will continue to support producers of statistics
Our role during the pandemic has been to support producers, look at issues that have arisen and promote trust and transparency in statistics and data that support decision making. This work has seen us produce guidance, publish statements and get involved in various issues such as impacts on the care sector, local area data, test and trace, rough sleeping, comparisons and prevalence rates, measurement related to deaths, and hospital capacity and occupancy.
And we will continue to grow the use of the Code of Practice. As the boundaries between official statistics and other forms of data come down, we have also seen many more committed and engaged organisations adopt the Code of Practice for Statistics and successfully created a new award in partnership with the Royal Statistical Society to recognise outstanding examples of how well this can work within our community of practice.
To conclude, there is much to learn from how the pandemic has impacted on statistics and data. In 2021 we will continue to look at the statistics system to build on the dynamism and innovation it has displayed during the pandemic as new areas of demand for insight emerge.