Trust can seem a no-brainer. It may seem so obvious, that of course it matters. It has often featured as the guiding aim of many a strategy for statistics.
I spend much of my time explaining about the Code of Practice for Statistics and our three pillars. I think of Quality as being the numbers bit – getting the right data, using the right methods. I think of Value as being why it all matters, making sure to serve the public and society. And Trustworthiness? Well, Trustworthiness for me is a lot like reputation – as Warren Buffett once said:
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
So, the Trustworthiness pillar is about ‘doing things differently’ – for analysts and their organisations. You can’t expect just to be trusted – you must earn it.
You have to behave honestly and with integrity – you can show that in the way that you use numbers. Anyone who spins data to make themselves look good, or cherry picks the numbers that tell the best story, will reveal themselves to be untrustworthy. But those that set out the facts plainly and objectively will be seen as someone to be trusted.
How you handle data and show respect to people and organisations giving their personal information can also prove that you are a safe pair of hands. But if you are seen to lose people’s data, or share it inappropriately, you’ll probably find people are not willing to share their information with you again.
And the way you release information matters – if you give any sense of being under the sway of political opportunism, the credibility of your statistics will be harmed.
So why isn’t the pillar called ‘Trust’ if that is what we are after?
Well, the answer is thanks to the seminal work of philosopher Baroness Onora O’Neill. She said that focusing on trust is fruitless – instead, you need to demonstrate that you are worthy of trust.
Basically, you can’t force someone to trust you. You can only show through the way you behave, not just once, but repeatedly, that you are honest, reliable, and competent:
- tell the truth
- do what you do well
- and keep on doing these
Being reliable in these ways will mean that people will come to trust you. But the only bit you can do is show you are worthy of trust.
So, if you reflect on your reputation for being trustworthy and you want to be sure to keep it, do things differently.
Here are some case studies on our Code website that illustrate some ways that statistics producers show their Trustworthiness:
- Office of Rail and Road showing independent production and the managed handling of statistics and data
- Department for Transport demonstrating leadership in the development of new statistics on transport use during the pandemic
- Welsh Government being transparent about its user engagement and quality management approaches
- Department for Transport developing statisticians’ coding skills to meet future organisational needs
- Scottish Government demonstrating transparency when linking and publishing data