The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) established a research programme in 2019 to better understand the public good of statistics. In order to deliver on our vision that statistics will serve the public good, we must first develop a full and complete understanding of what this means. In the Research Programme Overview document, we have mapped out some of the challenges facing this work and the issues it needs to address. Our Research Programme will work to overcome these issues and to provide answers for the gaps in knowledge which exist in this area so that we can be confident that the public good is being served by statistics.
The research programme’s priorities will be to address and gather evidence on the following;
There are challenges defining and measuring the ‘public good’
- There are gaps in understanding how to measure and communicate the public good of statistics and it is difficult to quantify the economic ‘value’ of statistics.
There are information gaps about how statistics are used
- We know very little about how the public use statistics in their daily lives or whether there is an ‘ideal’ amount of interaction with statistics.
Statistics can seem geared towards institutional users rather than the public audience
- Institutional users’ needs are easier to identify therefore their needs can seem prioritised over the public’s needs.
Statistics may not represent the wider social context
- There can be a perceived disconnect between people’s lived experiences and interests and the statistics that are produced and some statistics may have limited or no value.
There are information gaps about how best to communicate statistics
- It is unclear what is included in the term ‘statistics’ and how to communicate statistics effectively to a wide audience
We have also identified five areas that provide a foundation for this work:
The legislation setting out the public good of statistics
- The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 defines statistics that serve the public good as those which: inform the public about social and economic matters or assist in the development and evaluation of public policy.
- Projects seeking to use the data sharing provisions of the Digital Economy Act 2017 for statistical research must demonstrate that their work serves the public interest.
The wider environment where statistics are consumed and used
- The challenges to improve the public good of statistics raised by the 2019 Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) inquiry into the governance of official statistics in the UK.
How people use statistical information to inform decisions
- Decision-making is complex – humans use a range of information, past experiences, feelings, and judgements to arrive at decisions. Statistics have a place here, but they are not alone.
How statistics producers and intermediaries expect others to use statistical information
- There is an expectation that government policy decisions are – or should be – evidence based.
Official statistics producers’ capacity to change how they function
- Statistics producers face many competing priorities; they may have strong aspirations to innovate but face other constraints.
Our ultimate goal is for statistics to serve the public good. The research programme will support this in two ways. Firstly, by helping us to understand the extent to which this currently happens. Secondly, it will use the evidence gathered about the public good of statistics at present to identify what kinds of changes are needed, by whom, to ensure that statistics are fully serving the public good.
The ultimate beneficiary of statistics that serve the public good will be society. Research, public debate, and democracy will be enhanced and the public and institutional users of statistics will be in a better position to make informed decisions. Furthermore, these findings will benefit OSR’s regulators, whose work it aims to support and extend, and the statistics producers whose work it aims to influence.
The next steps for the research programme
We are starting from a position where we have identified knowledge gaps in understanding the public good of statistics and we want to build an evidence base to address them. To do this, we will collaborate with a range of stakeholders to develop shared plans and we will draw on other work happening that is of related interest. We will also work with others, such as the Government Statistical Service Good Practice Team, to translate what we learn into useful materials for statistics producers and others.
Change will not happen everywhere, overnight. It will require pilots and time to establish what works. But this overview provides an insight into what we hope to achieve and the future work we have planned to fulfil our vision.