5. Transparent and trustworthy
For statistics to serve the public good they must be trustworthy. This includes statistics being used and published in an open and transparent way.
Governments have worked with increased volumes of data, and more widespread and fast paced sharing of management information. There has also been increased scrutiny and a greater thirst for timely information from the media and the public.
Producers across all four nations have shown a clear commitment to transparency through their efforts to put information in the public domain. In addition to experimental and official statistics, they have also published the most up-to-date operational and management information, and have often voluntarily applied the Code of Practice for Statistics to these outputs. We welcome the voluntary application of the Code to such management information and would generally encourage producers to look to designate this data as official statistics. We recognise that voluntary application can in some cases be a phase on the way to data and statistics becoming official statistics.
Perhaps the most high-profile example of voluntary application is the development of the COVID-19 UK dashboard (see case study 6 above). The information contained within this dashboard is drawn predominantly from the most up-to-date operational and management information, which have been published in line with the principles of the Code. Another example is the NHS Test and Trace release for England, published by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Case Study 10: NHS test and trace statistics
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) publishes weekly statistics about the coronavirus (COVID-19) NHS test and trace programme in England. DHSC has also published a description about how the pillars of the Code have been applied in a proportionate way and there is great value and reassurance in having a clear statement of DHSC’s commitment to meeting Code standards.
As an example of its commitment to voluntary application of the Code standards, DHSC has published a detailed methodology document. In it, DHSC notes that users should apply caution in their interpretation because the system and understanding of the data is still developing.
The pace of development of the programme and associated management information has been unprecedented. It is clear that providing these timely statistics is the result of a huge amount of work by individuals across a range of teams and organisations. In a letter following OSR’s rapid review of the statistics, we welcomed the publication of these important data in an orderly release and DHSC’s clear desire to constantly make improvements to the information available.
Producers have also engaged pro-actively and positively with OSR, and have been open to both formal and informal advice and guidance. They have been open with us about challenges to publication and have sought our help to overcome them.
However, inevitably the increased volume of and demand for data has placed a greater burden on producers and led to selected figures being quoted publicly where the underlying data are not in the public domain. We have intervened publicly and privately to support transparency on a number of occasions, typically highlighting the importance of figures quoted publicly in parliament or to the media being supported by a clear and accessible publication which outlines caveats and any quality concerns. Where this is not the case there is potential to confuse the public and undermine confidence in the statistics.
In May 2020, we published a statement outlining our expectation around equality of access. In November 2020 we published a statement and blog outlining the vital role of transparency during the pandemic and what governments should do to ensure this transparency. We have also made a number of other public and private interventions on a range of topics from Universal Credit to COVID-19 local area data. Other examples of our interventions can be seen on our COVID-19 webpage.
Looking to the future
Our expectations in relation to transparency and trustworthiness have been set out in a number of our published documents, including the Code of Practice for Statistics, our report on Ensuring statistical models command public confidence and our Review of statistical leadership.
We have seen efforts to put information in the public domain and producers voluntarily applying the Code of Practice for Statistics to their outputs. However, inevitably the increased volume of and demand for data has placed a greater burden on producers and led to selected figures being quoted publicly when the underlying data are not in the public domain.
To ensure that statistics and data serve the public good, we will continue to champion the need for transparency in statistics and data to improve their trustworthiness, quality and value. We have published a statement setting out our expectations for how the statistical system ensures transparency and the role of Heads of Profession for Statistics. We will continue to intervene as necessary and in a proportionate way, in line with our interventions policy, to help overcome barriers to publishing information. We will continue to advocate and promote the voluntary application of the Code pillars for sources of analysis and data that are not official statistics.Back to top