Helen Miller-Bakewell, Head of Development and Impact at OSR, explores ways the Code of Practice for Statistics can assist producers of statistics and analysis increase their efficiency while facing pressure on resources

Most of us working in government (or indeed beyond government) will be familiar with the feeling that we’d like more resource, be it time, money, people, or all three! 

In July, we published our view on the current state of the UK’s statistical system. This year’s report highlights the tremendous amount of insightful and influential statistics produced by government analysts, but also explores the challenges producers of statistics are increasingly facing from pressure on resources.  

Addressing pressure on resources is a complex problem, which will require a multifaceted solution. But it raises a very closely related question: how can producers of statistics and analysis work in an efficient way, to ensure they achieve the maximum value from the resources they do have? It is this question we will consider here. 

As ever, when faced with a question about the production of statistics or analysis, we first look to our Code of Practice for Statistics. Three principles within the Code speak immediately to this question: relevance to users; innovation and improvement; and efficiency and proportionality. Below, we outline ways to support efficiency in these areas; however, we are very conscious that, when facing pressure on resources, it can be hard to initiate and implement them. To this end, we hope the case studies and links to available support and guidance can help. Please get in touch if you would like further advice or support. 

Relevance to users (V1):

Users of statistics and data should always be at the centre of statistical production; their needs should be understood, their views sought and acted on, and their use of statistics supported. We encourage producers of statistics to have conversations with a wide range of users to identify where statistics can be ceased, or reduced in frequency or detail, to save resources if appropriate. This can free up resource, while helping producers to fulfil their commitment to producing statistics of public value that meet user needs. Ofsted has recently done this to great effect. 

While effective user engagement itself takes time and expertise, this investment is key to ensuring resources are well-spent elsewhere. Undertaking public engagement collaboratively wherever possible, including working in partnership with policy makers and other statistics producers can reduce the resource required. The Analysis Function User engagement strategy for statistics has a strong focus on collaboration and how this will be supported across the statistical system in the future, including through the User Support and Engagement Resource (USER) Hub and theme-based user groups and forums. 

Innovation and improvement (V4):

The UK statistical system should maintain the brilliant responsive and proactive approach we have seen in the last few years and look to do this in a sustainable way. Improvements to data infrastructure, processes, and systems could all help. For example, the use of technology and data science principles, such as that set out in our 2021 Reproducible Analytical Pipeline (RAP) review, supports the more efficient and sustainable delivery of statistics. This review includes several case studies of producers using RAP principles to reduce manual effort and save time, alongside other benefits. The recent Analysis Function Reproducible Analytical Pipelines (RAP) strategy sets out the ambition to embed RAP across government, and the Analysis Function can offer RAP support, through its online pages, its Analysis Standards and Pipelines Team and via the cross-government the RAP champion network. 

Efficiency and proportionality (V5):

Statistics and data should be published in forms that enable their reuse, and opportunities for data sharing, data linkage, cross-analysis of sources, and the reuse of data should be acted on. The visualisations and insights generated by individuals, from outside the statistical system, using easily downloadable data from the COVID-19 dashboard nicely demonstrate the benefits of making data available for others to do their own analysis, which can add value without additional resource from producers. Promoting data sharing and linkage, in a secure way, is one of OSR’s priorities and we are currently engaging with key stakeholders involved in data to gather examples of good practice, and to better understand the current barriers to sharing and linking. This will be used to champion successes, support positive change, and provide opportunities for learning to be shared.  

When we reflect on these three principles, three further common principles and or themes become apparent to ensure their success: independent decision making and leadership, in particular Chief Statisticians and Heads of Profession for Statistics having authority to uphold and advocate the standards of the Code, professional capability – once more demonstrating the benefit of investing in training and skills, even when resources are scarce – and collaboration.  

All the principles listed above are supported by case studies in our online Code. These, along with case studies in our reports, can offer inspiration and practical suggestions to help analysts implement the ideas discussed. We are always delighted to discover new case studies that we can share to inspire others: if you can offer a case study, please do get in touch.  

Pressure on resources poses a significant threat to the ability of government analysts to produce the insight government and the wider population needs to make well-informed decisions. Working in an efficient way will help address one part of this problem: it will help ensure maximum value is achieved with the resources that are available, which will in turn help others across government appreciate the benefit of having analysts at the table.  

If you would like to discuss any of the themes raised here, or offer a case study that could help support smarter working among other producers of analysis, please contact us on regulation@statistics.gov.uk