Reflections on the Code and the wider analytical community
Kimberly Cullen, Statistics Assessor
It was the bacon roll that did it. Ed, our DG, had just asked if I wanted to attend a breakfast meeting with several Directors of Analysis from across government to discuss the refreshed Code of Practice for Statistics. I hesitated – was thinking about my deadlines when I heard one of the most beautiful sentences in the English language: There will be bacon rolls.
Want me involved? Bring. Food. It really is that simple.
So bacon rolls aside (they were divine), how was the meeting? Fortunately there was a positive response to the Code changes (always a good start to a meeting). And, crucially, there was agreement that the revised document presents an opportunity to raise awareness across analytical communities. This was great news – but what is this opportunity and how do we at OSR frame it and then use it?
We all know there’s not just official statistics that are produced in government departments but administrative data, management information, research, financial data, secondary analysis, and modelling to name a few types of numerical information. Often these are not published nor end up as official statistics but nonetheless play a significant role in policy and decision making particularly in Ministerial government departments. I often hear throughout the Code seminars of the urgent and unyielding demands to provide information which are not official statistics and yet required to inform policies and decisions. Those working in this environment ask us repeatedly, how does the Code assist in this ambiguous space? How do those in the non-official stats analytical community use the principles and practices? I wish a bacon roll could turn their frowns upside down but sadly food is not the answer in this respect (I know, I can’t believe it either. . . ).
The draft Code contains helpful principles for wider analysis but the feedback suggested that we need to be clearer that the Code relates to the publication of such material (whether secondary analysis, modelling, etc.). And that what is published should be equally accessible to all. Both excellent points and it occurred to me that I had always just assumed – because I work with the Code daily – that everyone understood that. Right. We need to work on our messaging.
“What is published should be equally accessible to all.”
Use of the Code does not mean an obligation to publish all analysis and data in departments – only what ends up as official statistics. The message to the analytical community is that the Code principles of trustworthiness, quality and value (TQV) can apply to all numerical information. The Code has the potential to enhance public confidence in wider numerical information. TQV underpins official statistics but are universal properties to which all of us that work with information and data aspire towards. The Code can be a helpful guide to those collecting, analysing, and disseminating any type of numerical information. We need to get that message out.
Based on comments from the breakfast, we also realised the need to highlight the synergy between related guidance, such as standards applied in other professional groups (e.g. actuaries) and those using the Aqua Book for producing quality analysis. The Code is a tool to support numerical analysis and our principles do not supersede the expected standards in other related professions and industries.
Many thanks to the senior leaders that came to the meeting and provided such excellent feedback on the Code. As a result, we now recognise there is a spectrum of regulatory and advocacy activities that we are working within. We are regulators of the Code when assessing official statistics and we advocate the Code with the rest of the analytical community. How far down the advocacy route we go depends upon the audience and type of data but that requires further development which we have started.
We are keen to show the wider benefits of the Code principles and practices and support all those in the analytical community through a two-pronged approach of regulation and advocacy. It’s a rather exciting time in the office. Watch this space. . .