Statutory Statistical

The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, has to be one of the shorter bits of legislation at only 44 pages long.  It’s purpose is promoting and safeguarding the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good ( Part 1 Section 7(1)). 

That public good being: informing the public about social and economic matters, and assisting in the development and evaluation of public policy.  And to promote and safeguard:

(a) the quality of official statistics;
(b) good practice in relation to official statistics, and
(c) the comprehensiveness of official statistics.

So put 17,000 words of the Act into a (wordle) wordcloud and this is what you get.... 

The Act created the UK Statistics Authority (technically the Board), which is at the heart of the Act, and which has produced as the Code of Practice for Official Statistics and it’s primary tool.  The code has real breadth and depth.  While the code is wide in scope (8 principles and 3 protocols) it’s also specific in terms of practices, of which there are 74 practices to support those principles and protocols.  And those practices strong on the “what” rather than the more prescriptive “how”.

And here's what that Code looks like...

It is of course aligned with international context.   This includes the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (from the United Nations Statistics Division) and EU’s European Statistics Code of Practice: For National and Community Statistical Authorities.  Plus it is specific about the interpretation of the Cabinet Office Civil Service code to statistics:

Integrity: putting the public interest above organisational, political or personal interests.

Honesty: being truthful and open about statistics and their interpretation

Objectivity: using scientific methods to collect statistics and basing statistical advise on rigorous analysis of the evidence

Impartiality: acting solely according to the merits of the statistical evidence, serving equally well all aspects of the public interest.

So as well as that broader context, in practice the code represents a very effective consolidation of best practice for the management of statistics and data more generally.  Of course there would be an implicit degree of proportionality applied here, but no real counter arguments.   As a standard, it’s accepted that it is a high one, with 74 real business practices with which to be technically compliant for any set of data. So the picture take on this....

While designed as a code of practice for “official statistics”, the early emphasis has been on the more specific and formal national statistics, typically those produced by government departments.  The scope of official statistics is a bit more tricky to pin down, and technically includes “statistics produced by any other person acting on behalf of the crown” (Part 1, Section  6(1,a,vi) ).

There’s now enough substantive extra that sit around that central code of practice.  If the Code is the “law” then there’s plenty of subsequent “precedent”.  Firstly here is the emerging structural emphasis across that code.   The early strong emphasis has been around users, and engaging and understanding needs. In short “meeting users' needs is at the heart of the Code of Practice”.  Here's the wordcloud of that (monitoring) report, something visually here about official stats focussing towards users....

Then perhaps less conspicuously, but arguable more profound, has been the emphasis on the value of statistical commentary, as itself being a public good for the public domain.  And then some reinforcement of standards for statistical releases.  That is all reinforced by the “value” emphasis in the value for money equation…the value of statistical work refers to the “benefit delivered by the use of the statistics to influence decisions and actions, now and in the future”.  And that reinforced by the description of the Use of Official Statistics……

Then there’s the rolling work programme with the practical audits.  With an early run on “breech of code of practice” (17), although less so now.  Now there’s 84 Assessment reports and counting, which works out at one a week, over 50 a year.  Lots of official confirmation of national statistics status, reflected in the wordcloud...
Scratch under the surface of operational statistics, to see some powerful progress, to establish a new management model.  The machinery is modernising.  A stronger independence for the statistical head of profession, with a management air gap with the policy and media folk.  At the same time, there’s less ‘pre-release’ time for exclusive internal access  before stats being made public, and increasing consistently at 9:30 in the morning.  Then there is the conscience role.  Pronouncing on formal mis-use in the public eye, which have even resulted in Ministerial apologies.  

Once might reasonably expect that at some point the open statistics movement might helpfully co-join with the open data and visualisation momentum and maybe spawn an open insight movement.  After all, the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts…..So blend some open data, engaging presentation and some statistical process and get some collective insight to drive change and even transformation.