The Public Good of Statistics: What we know so far

To succeed in our aim to develop a better understanding of statistics serving the public good, it is critical to understand what is already known, and what is not known, about this subject.

This review contributes towards that aim. We begin by considering how the public good is defined. This phrase is sometimes used interchangeably with other similar phrases (e.g. public interest) but it is not well understood how appropriate this is (if other phrases do mean the same thing) or what the public good really means for the public themselves. We then outline four approaches to measuring and understanding the public good of statistics, which are discussed below.

Legislative Approach

The legislative approach provides an overview of two key pieces of legislation which are relevant to statistics serving the public good. The Statistics and Registration Service Act (2007) led to the creation of the UK Statistics Authority and it also created a definition of the public good. The Digital Economy Act (2017) then created mechanisms to promote data sharing and linking which further contributes towards statistics being able to serve the public good.

Empirical Research

Empirical research is relevant to the question of whether statistics are currently serving the public good. Two important themes are highlighted: trust in statistics and statistics producers, and the communication of statistics. Evidence suggests that these two issues may be instrumental in ensuring that statistics can serve the widest range of users possible, therefore further research is needed to better understand these two factors.

Economic Value

The review also considers how the economic value of statistics can serve the public good. This highlighted the need for measurements which can quantify the value of statistics. Being able to quantify the value of statistics would help to demonstrate the need for national statistical offices and may provide further support for the development of high-quality statistics. This section also discusses the need for more timely statistics on economic measures.

Social Value

The review considers the social value of the public good of statistics by discussing the impact of data gaps on statistics serving the public good. Further to this, we consider the difficulties associated with ensuring that there are no gaps in data. We also evaluate whether the approach taken by the BBC to provide a valuable service to the public can offer insights and possible comparisons to OSR’s approach to the public good.

In conclusion, our review highlights several points where further research is needed to shed light on the important issue of statistics serving the public good.

Through looking at this issue across four different approaches, we can build a picture of how this concept operates in various methodologies, disciplines, and organisations. But this is just a starting point for the research programme. We hope to use these insights to guide our future work so we can continue to develop our understanding of what it means for statistics to serve the public good.