Overcoming barriers to change

I work in the Children, Education and Skills domain in the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), not long after I joined OSR a colleague working with me in this area suggested we carry out a review of innovation and improvement. This was prompted because we were starting to hear about some interesting developments in these statistics. Our aim was to find out more about the great work going on in producer teams across the UK to comply with the new innovation principle in the refreshed Code of Practice for Statistics. Ultimately, we thought this would be a practical way we could encourage others along the journey of improving their statistics to meet user needs.

I have personally learned a lot along the way, both about the statistics in this area and about being more innovative. In our previous posts we have explored the importance of collaboration, and shared some ideas to think about when producing alternatives to traditional pdf statistics releases.

However, my previous experience working in the Government Statistics Service (GSS) meant that I wasn’t surprised to hear that it hasn’t all been plain sailing. I hope some of the suggestions we’ve picked up during this review might help you to overcome some of the challenges you face when innovating in the development and presentation of statistics.

Making the time

Producers told us time and resource were barriers they faced to implementing change and yet we heard some great examples of how this is being tackled. We heard about how teams have broken down larger scale improvement projects into manageable chunks to tackle at quieter times of the production process, and about how producers are working across Departmental barriers to share resource. We heard about statisticians working with operational researchers, IT professionals and others in their organisation with an interest in coding to develop outputs together. We also heard examples of different departments sharing coding skills via the Government Data Science Slack group, and about teams getting together with those in other Departments to share lessons learned. All of this helps build capability and share knowledge, as well as saving time.

Getting your innovations out there

We heard that once producers have freed-up the resource and developed the skills to produce alternative outputs such as dashboards and interactive displays of statistics, there can be big hurdles to getting outputs into the public domain. This is often because of the Government Digital Services (GDS) restrictions on the type of content that can be hosted on GOV.UK and the restriction to the development of alternatives to GOV.UK.  At OSR, we recognise that while GDS restrictions are in place for good reasons, they can be a barrier to innovation in the presentation and dissemination of statistics

We’ve found some teams have worked with GDS to publish experimental tools, for example, to collect evidence of user needs for their new outputs. If you, like many teams we heard from, need support or advice on developing alternative dissemination platforms to host interactive content, you could contact the Chair of Presentation and Dissemination Committee’s Web Dissemination sub-group, John.Wilkins@dft.gov.uk. We will also look at ways OSR can further support this work.

Meeting user needs

As part of the review, we spoke to users of some of the statistics to find out how the changes had impacted them. When users had been involved in the developments, they were usually full of praise for the changes. However, in some cases the users weren’t aware of the projects, and didn’t understand why outputs had changed. We noticed there was often no public statement or easily accessible information about the plans, the aims or timescale of the innovation project.

A transparent approach would keep users up to date with planned changes and allows producers to share information of any likely impact on the statistics – such as how a change in methodology or data collection may affect the quality or consistency of the statistics – and what steps are being taken by producers to address these. It would also open the door to wider user feedback and input in the development stages of an improvement project. Thinking more about how you tell users about changes and developments may help with Code compliance, but more importantly, it is likely to help you to make the most of the opportunity to improve your statistics.

Get in touch

At OSR we are keen that we support producers to understand the requirements of the Code and we hope this series of blogs and articles will go some way to seeing what the new Innovation and Improvement principle means in practice. We also hope it has given you an idea of the types of good practice we might hope to see when assessing statistics. While this is the last planned web piece for this review, we are keen to explore further with the GSS Good Practice Team other ways to share the things we learned. We are also keen to hear about other innovations going on in the GSS to incorporate as case studies in the interactive version of the Code of Practice, so please do get in touch if you are doing anything interesting.

I’d like to thank all the producers who we spoke to during this review, it was exciting to see the range of activities producers were undertaking and their commitment to improvement was admirable.