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A simpler way to report concerns under the Code of Practice for Statistics

Natasha Bance

We’ve changed the way that the GSS reports concerns under the Code of Practice for Statistics. We’ve made the process simpler and more flexible.

Why we’ve made changes to the process

Mistakes happen. Statistics are sometimes published at the wrong time. People sometimes share embargoed numbers more widely than they should have done. Cases like this can be serious if critical numbers are late, pre-release data are shared widely when they should not be, or there is unauthorised access to data. But fortunately serious problems are rare.

In the past many of you will have had to report fairly minor concerns as formal ‘breaches’ of the Code of Practice for Statistics. You probably spoke to your Head of Profession, to talk about the problem and why things went wrong. You may have shared your thoughts about how you could stop the same thing happening again.

The last part of the process probably involved filling in a form to explain what happened. You might also have written details about the next actions you were going to take. You would have sent this form to the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA).

The old ‘breach reporting’ process was very bureaucratic. It focused on a small number of practices in the Code of Practice about releasing statistics. Those issues are very important. But it often took too long to prepare reports for each minor issue. Few people saw the reports, which meant that the work needed to produce them was hard to justify.

What matters most here is that:

  • statistical teams acknowledge and learn from their mistakes
  • we support other colleagues, like members of press teams, so they understand why it’s important to follow the Code of Practice to promote trustworthiness, quality and public value
  • we are honest and open about problems and how they affect statistics, so that our users have confidence in our numbers

The new process is more targeted

The new process only involves the UKSA when there’s a major concern and a real risk to the trustworthiness of the statistics system. We will continue to offer support with these complex cases, as we have always done.

The new process allows producer teams to identify and deal directly with minor concerns. This means they can address problems in ways that are suitable for the local situation. The UKSA can then provide a lighter advisory or regulatory service as needed.

Martin Ralphs, Tegwen Green and Mark Pont
Natasha Bance
Martin Ralphs heads the Analysis Standards and Pipelines hub in the Quality and Improvement division at the Office for National Statistics. His team supports analysts across government in achieving best practice ways of working, particularly through the use of coding and open source tools.

Tegwen Green is a team lead in the Analysis Function Strategy and Support division of the Office for National Statistics. Her focus is on implementing the GSS User Engagement Strategy to make sure that we support users of statistics effectively and meet their needs.

Mark Pont heads up the Assessment Programme at the Office for Statistical Regulation in the UK Statistics Authority. He works with colleagues across the Government Statistical Service in supporting compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.