The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR)’s vision is that statistics serve the public good. There are multiple routes through which statistics can serve the public good, and our new literature review explores one of these, considering the role of official statistics in public policy across the UK. The literature review is part of OSR’s wider research programme and complements ongoing research on how members of the public use official statistics.  

The evidence presented in our literature review provides a useful resource for both those working in official statistics production and those who seek to use official statistics in the realm of public policy. While this webpage gives recommendations and a summary of the findings, we encourage you to read the full literature review.  

OSR has been exploring the role of statistics in public policy

OSR’s vision is that statistics serve the public good. To support our work in ensuring that statistics serve the public good, we have a research programme which aims to deepen understanding around what it means for statistics to serve the public good. From this work, we have come to recognise that there are multiple routes through which the public good can be served. As described in our literature review into the public good of statistics, the Statistics and Registration Service Act (2007) states that statistics serving the public good ‘includes in particular informing the public about social and economic matters, and assisting in the development and evaluation of public policy’.  

In OSR, we are interested in exploring both sides of this definition. In terms of exploring how official statistics inform the public, we are currently (in 2024) undertaking  to better understand how individuals may use statistics in their personal lives. Our ambition is that the findings from this research will help us regulate in a way that better supports members of the public as users of statistics. 

It is the other half of the legislative definition, though, which the present literature review relates to: the role official statistics play in shaping public policy. By informing policy at multiple different stages, official statistics have the capacity to support better outcomes for the public, and therefore better serve the public good. While official statistics should not be considered as a tool for policy alone (we explore in our  why statistics must be available for everyone in society to use), they certainly play an important role here. Better understanding this role will allow us to help statistics fulfil their potential in the policy sphere. 

Our literature review has identified a wide range of evidence

The literature review provides a broad overview of the existing evidence on the role, impact and challenges of official statistics in policy processes. It also identifies the key factors that enable or hinder the effective use of official statistics in policy, including people factors (such as capacity, capability and collaboration) and production factors (such as user engagement and ensuring appropriate relevance, frequency, timeliness and accessibility).  

The vital role of official statistics in public policy stretches from the very start (identifying a need for new policies) through to policy development and monitoring ongoing policies to policy evaluation. Statistics are useful both for those working in government, who use them to develop and implement policy, and in public debate more widely.  


Statistics producers can take action to support use in policy

To support the role of official statistics in public policy, producers of official statistics should: 

  • engage both formally and informally with current and potential users of official statistics in the context of policy to understand their needs and build trust and awareness of the value and benefits of, and opportunities for, using official statistics  
  • explore users’ capacity and capability to interpret and apply statistics and, where possible, collaborate with key users to provide analytical support 
  • seek and act on feedback from policy users and wider stakeholders on the relevance, timeliness and frequency of official statistics 
  • communicate clearly and transparently the strengths, limitations, methods and assumptions of official statistics, and offer guidance and contact options for users who need help interpreting and applying them 
  • present statistics in an accessible and understandable way, using appropriate formats and tools such as dashboards 

Policymakers also play an important part in ensuring statistics are used

To support the role of official statistics in public policy at in central, devolved and local government, policymakers should: 

  • integrate official statistics into all stages of the policy cycle, from identifying problems to evaluating outcomes 
  • use available resources, such as the research and statistics page and the list of accredited official statistics and contact statistics producers to find relevant and reliable official statistics for your topic of interest 
  • seek and take opportunities to enhance analytical skills; for example, on civil service learning there is a free online course, Data Masterclass, which demonstrates how to use data-driven decision-making, and a one-day course, Data and Analysis, which teaches participants how to be an ‘intelligent customer’ 
  • communicate with statistics producers to clarify any questions or doubts about the statistics and their limitations, and provide feedback on how they can improve their communication 
  • collaborate with statistics producers to request ad hoc analysis or support in using existing statistics if needed, and explore opportunities for joint working 

The findings and recommendations from this literature review reinforce wider OSR positions

Our literature review reinforces the findings of other work from OSR, such as our report on analytical leadership, which discusses, among other things, the need to integrate evidence into policy- and decision-making. For example, both the literature review and the analytical leadership report highlight the importance of collaborating beyond individual professions. This is consistent with the recommendations we have made to those working both in policy and in official statistics.  

Our research findings and recommendations also align with our intelligent transparency campaign and our review of approaches to presenting uncertainty in the statistical system, in terms of the need to fully communicate the context around statistics, such as their limitations. Additionally, findings related to the importance of accessible communication reinforce our position on statistical literacy, in that appropriate communication can reduce capability-related barriers. For those interested in additional ways to communicate statistics to a wide audience, our statistical literacy literature review highlights multiple avenues producers could consider.   

More importantly, beyond corroborating the stance set out in any individual OSR project, the findings from the literature review reinforce the pillars, principles and practices set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics (the Code) which underpin the work of the entire statistical system. For example, the Code pillar of Value explores the importance of collaboration and discussion with stakeholders, while Quality notes that limitations must be explained. As such, our recommendations are Code-consistent.  

OSR will continue to explore the public good of statistics 

Our recent literature review is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the public good of statistics or their use in public policy. The implications of its findings are useful to us as a regulator, but they are also relevant to producers of statistics and users (or potential users) in the policy realm.  

We intend to use the evidence gathered in this literature review to support wider OSR work and achieve our organisational priorities. Specifically, our 2024/25 priorities include supporting and challenging statistics producers to innovate, collaborate and build resilience. A better understanding of how statistics can be used in public policy will help us identify the best approaches to collaboration in these areas.  

In parallel with this, we will continue our exploration into how official statistics are used by members of the public. In doing so, we will champion the public as statistics users and seek to ensure their needs are considered equally alongside the needs of policy users. This supports our 2024/25 priority to ‘champion the effective communication of statistics to support society’s key information needs’.  

If you have any evidence you would like to share for how statistics serve the public good, we always welcome hearing from you at