Richard Laux, Deputy Head of Regulation

 

In our consultation launch document, we floated the idea that a wide range of organisations might wish to comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics on a purely voluntary basis. We are keen to hear others’ views on this approach; in this blog I want to explain some aspects of our emerging thinking, to help stimulate debate.

 

Who might ‘voluntarily comply’?

By law the Code applies to a range of organisations, almost all from the public sector, which are ‘producers of official statistics’. In effect these organisations must ‘statutorily comply’ with the Code.

But many other organisations in the third sector, in academia, in local government, and in the commercial sector produce numerical information which are valuable to society – that is, the information has the potential to enhance debate and support informed decision-making. For example, local authorities publish performance information such as how much household waste is recycled and the percentage of council tax they collect. Companies publish information like their charitable donations and their carbon footprint. And universities which publish information about the employability of their students, their success in widening participation access, and their funding and spending. All of this information has public value: they provide insight, generate understanding and help people answer key questions.

 

What does ‘voluntary compliance’ entail?

We don’t think that a one-size-fits-all approach to voluntary compliance is the best way forward, and we would naturally support innovative approaches. But at the same time, we think it is likely that there will be some common approaches across organisations that are interested. For example, it seems sensible for an organisation to review its own policies and procedures against the principles of the Code, and to document its findings, including any parts of the Code that it does not fully comply with.

The organisation should focus on describing how it secures the three pillars of the Code – Trustworthiness, Quality and Value (TQV) – which are universal, and draw on the principles in the Code to guide its judgement. Where it is unsure how to demonstrate its approach to TQV, it might make sense to look at the detailed practices as a prompt or guide – although we believe that voluntary compliance will work best when targeted at the level of principles rather than practices. And it seems sensible for an organisation that considers that it is voluntarily compliant to say so on its website; if it considers that it is partly compliant, it seems sensible to explain its thinking together with any plans it has to enhance the extent of its voluntary compliance. We are happy to provide advice about the Code, to help organisations understand their own compliance.

Organisations in the commercial sector might not immediately recognise the relevance of the concept of public value to their work. But we would encourage them to think broadly – for example, in many cases the information they publish helps to make markets work efficiently, inform shareholders, and helps customers make decisions. These are all ways of providing public value.

 

What are the benefits?

From the perspective of the organisation, voluntarily compliance offers the opportunity to:

  • compare existing practices against the high standards required to enhance public confidence in its data and statistics;
  • draw attention to its high standards of statistical activity;
  • demonstrate an aspirational commitment to trustworthiness, quality and public value.

The impact of doing so is likely to vary between organisations – but is likely to include better numerical information, greater confidence in the use of that information, and competitive advantage. In some areas, we know that official statistics draw upon the numerical information produced by these organisations, and so documented voluntary compliance provides a degree of assurance about the trustworthiness of the organisation and the quality of the source.

 

What will the OSR’s role be?

We are happy to provide advice and guidance about the Code and, where possible, attend workshops to help the organisation; we might also be able to put organisations in similar sectors in touch with each other, to develop networks. And we will consider whether there are ways of presenting the Code that make it more accessible to organisations with an interest in voluntary compliance. Although it would not be possible to designate organisations’ statistical products as National Statistics, there may be scope for us to look at the quality of the statistics, if we were invited to do so.

 

Any questions?

If you have any questions about voluntary compliance, please contact me on regulation@statistics.gov.uk

More generally, the values of OSR include being: externally engaged and connected; enquiring and open-minded; and inclusive and listening to others – we want to listen and learn. So, if this blog stimulates any other thoughts, please let me know.

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