In our latest blog one of our Head Statistics Regulators discusses what it means to be an accredited official statistic and how official statistics accreditation can help users and producers of statistics…

Here at the OSR we are responsible for carrying out assessments to determine whether a set of statistics can be confirmed as accredited official statistics – a designation previously known as badged as National Statistics.

I often get asked what does it mean to be an accredited official statistic?

The OSR defines accredited official statistics as official statistics that we have independently reviewed and confirmed as complying with the standards of trustworthiness, quality and value in the Code of Practice for Statistics (the Code).

For me, accreditation is a shortcut. It’s a quick way of signalling to users of the statistics that the standards of the Code have been met. It’s similar to a quality mark, but what quality is being assessed: that of the processes to produce the statistics or that of the statistics themselves?

“It’s more than just quality”

The Code encompasses much more than quality. Accreditation implies not only the good quality of the statistics themselves but also that they are presented, quality assured and disseminated according to set standards. It is about the value of the statistics for users and whether they are robust enough to bear the weight of decision-making required of them. Thus, accreditation considers both the processes and the statistics themselves and the structures, people and organisations, that support statistics planning, production and communication.

“Context and use matter”

When we assess the quality of the statistics themselves we are not looking for them to meet a ‘gold standard’.  We recognise that any statistic is only ever a best estimate at a particular point in time. It also depends on context and whether the statistics are good enough for their intended use, which will vary according to user and societal need. For example more-timely but less-accurate data (due to gaps in data sources to ensure timeliness) may be acceptable in one context but would not be in another. It can take two years after the reference period for a relatively comprehensive picture of the economy and so GDP, to emerge. However, more-timely GDP statistics are needed to inform policy, budgeting, investment and employment decisions in the public and private sectors.

However, what we do require is for producers of statistics to ensure that they are producing the most appropriate estimate available by ensuring suitable data sources are used, methods are robust and estimates are quality assured. This work should be carried out with the context and use of the statistics in mind and in an open, professional and transparent way, by making clear any limitations to the data, inherent uncertainty due to the timeliness of the data, or planned revisions so users can use the statistics appropriately for their needs. More detail on our approach to quality is provided in our publication Quality and statistics: An OSR perspective.

What if the statistics are not accredited?

If statistics are not accredited, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t trustworthy, of a high quality or valuable. It also doesn’t mean that they are. What it does mean though is that we haven’t independently checked that they comply with the standards of trustworthiness, quality and value in the Code. Being a chartered naval architect or having a plumbing and heating qualification signals that someone external has checked you can do something to a particular standard, e.g. build and design ships or install and maintain boilers and heating appliances. However, that doesn’t mean someone without official qualifications can’t also do the same things. You would just want to look for more evidence that they can, e.g. references, evidence they understand the relevant standards and rules they should be following etc.

We encourage all users of statistics, to ask themselves some questions to ensure the data are fit for their purposes. These include considering where the data has come from, why has it been collected, how well the data fits with the concept you are trying to measure, what checks have been carried out to assure the data, how can you access the data. Some more detail on things to consider are set out in our guidance on questions for data users.

What if the accreditation is removed?

Legally only we (the UK Statistics Authority) can remove the badge, i.e. the accreditation, from a set of statistics. We may decide on this course of action for a number of reasons. These could be related to concerns around the quality of the data sources used to produce the statistics, where user need is not being met or where substantial changes to the data sources and methods require us to conduct a review to ensure the quality of the data is such that they continue to be applicable for their intended use. The reason(s) should be included in the release and/or the announcement explaining why the accreditation has been removed.

What if some of the input statistics are not accredited?

Different sets of statistics often feed through into others. For example, migration data are used to inform population estimates and projections. Data from the labour force survey feed into productivity estimates. Producers of data and statistics should always quality-assure their data sources and be aware of any changes to them. The extent of quality assurance required and the weight placed on different data sources will vary depending on factors such as how much they affect the overall calculation, or whether there are any alternatives. We would expect this information to be communicated to users so they can understand the quality-assurance processes carried out and why the producer has decided that the data sources are fit for use. This is the case regardless of whether the source data are accredited or non-accredited.

How do I get my statistics accredited?

If you are a government department of official body that produces official statistics, and you have a set of statistics that you consider meet the standards of trustworthiness, quality and value in the Code then you can ask us to assess them. The benefits of doing so include:

  • An independent assessment of the processes, methods and outputs used to produce the statistics against the recognised standards of the Code.
  • Public demonstration of your organisation’s commitment to trustworthiness, quality and public value.

Your first step towards assessment is to talk with your Head of Profession for Statistics who can provide guidance and points to consider.

If you are producer of data, statistics and analysis which are not official statistics, whether inside government or beyond you can contact us to discuss voluntarily application of the Code. While this approach will not lead to accredited official statistics it is a public demonstration of your commitment to the standards of the Code, which many organisations find beneficial for their work.

How do I find out more?

Related reading:

Futureproofing the Code of Practice for Statistics: findings and next steps from our review

National Statistics designation review