The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) recognises the extraordinary efforts that statisticians have made over the past year to get relevant and timely data into the public domain and the role this has played in meeting the challenges posed by the pandemic. This note builds on the expectations we have previously set out on publication of data, including in our previously published statement regarding use of management information.
Statistics and data should serve the public good. They should allow individuals to reach informed decisions, answer important questions and provide a mechanism for holding government to account. Our expectations apply regardless of how the data are categorised. For many who see the publication of numerical information, the distinction between official statistics and other data, such as management information or research, may seem artificial. Therefore, any data which are quoted publicly or where there is significant public interest should be released and communicated in a transparent way.
Heads of Profession for Statistics play an important role in demonstrating trustworthiness and building confidence in statistics and organisations that produce them. Throughout the last year, Heads of Profession for Statistics have supported the increased use and production of statistics, and ensured data are made equally available to all. It is vital that senior leaders support Heads of Profession to do their jobs effectively and that decisions to release statistics and data are free from political interference.
Our expectations for how the statistical system ensures transparency
The Head of Profession for Statistics plays a key role in decisions on the release and use of data: An organisation’s Head of Profession for Statistics (or equivalent) has authority for deciding on the methods, content and timing of the release of regular and ad hoc official statistics. This includes determining the need for new statistics and data, or a transition from an ad-hoc release to a regular set of official statistics.
The Head of Profession for Statistics also plays a key role in advising on matters concerning the transparency of data and evidence beyond official statistics, as their experience and knowledge of the Code of Practice for Statistics is applicable to other settings – for example, when management information or research is used in Parliament or the media.
Data and statistics are equally accessible: Where statistics and data are used publicly to inform Parliament, the media and the public, they are published in an accessible form with appropriate explanations of context and sources. Similarly, where analysis has been carried out and there is significant public interest, this is equally available to all.
Where data quoted publicly are not already included as part of an existing publication, ad-hoc publications are released containing the relevant information before any planned statement is made. Where unpublished data are referred to unexpectedly, this information is published as soon as possible after any statement has been made.
Statistics and data are communicated with clarity and insight: Those speaking on behalf of government communicate statistics in a way that commands confidence in the statistics and organisations using them. They help those listening understand the key messages, including being frank about uncertainties in the data.
Organisations have transparent processes and management: Organisations have appropriate resources to support their statistical functions, including the development of new data and statistics. A work programme is established and regularly reviewed. Statistics producers publish development plans and inform users of progress against these priorities, demonstrating transparency and therefore enhancing trustworthiness – even if these plans are tentative and later change.
Proportionality is used in decision making: We recognise that in some circumstances there may be valid reasons why it is not possible to publish data. We are proportionate in judging where we intervene, in line with our interventions policy.
References to support these expectations
The Code of Practice for Statistics
The Code of Practice for Statistics provides principles which should guide the release of official statistics and other data. It sets out the important role that Heads of Profession play in demonstrating trustworthiness in the production of official statistics. It also sets out clear expectations that organisations should commit to releasing statistics in an open and transparent manner that promotes public confidence – this includes being clear about appropriate caveats or quality concerns and ensuring a coherent narrative across different sources of information. The Code highlights the need for organisations to look after people’s information securely and manage data in ways that are consistent with relevant legislation and serve the public good.
OSR review of statistical leadership
OSR published its review of Statistical Leadership: Making Analytical Insight Count in February 2021, which looked at how statistical leadership can be strengthened across government. Effective statistical leadership by governments across the UK is essential to support society’s need for information. Statistical leadership can help ensure the right data and analysis exist, that they are used at the right time to inform decisions, and that they are communicated clearly and transparently in a way that supports confidence in the data and decisions made on the basis of them.
Statistical leadership is a central feature of the Code. Successful implementation of government policies can be dependent on public confidence in the data and messages shared by government. Individuals need to be confident in the data and associated narratives in order to make decisions which impact on their lives, businesses, or charities.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC)
PACAC published a report on ‘Government transparency and accountability during Covid 19: The data underpinning decisions’ in March 2021 which highlighted several recommendations about the role of statistical leaders in providing the information to allow government to be held to account. The report found that data transparency is not just a moral issue, but that it is integral to the success of the government’s response to the pandemic. PACAC argues that the government should focus on informing the public openly and honestly, including being frank about uncertainties in the data. It recommends that where Ministers quote statistics, the underlying data must be published so that it is easy for journalists and members of the public to find.