Insights from shadowing the National Statistician

Natasha Bance

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work as a high-ranking government official? Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to shadow the National Statistician as a prize from the Analysis Function (AF) QR Code Challenge at Civil Service Live 2023. I went into the experience having just been promoted to being a team leader. I wanted to understand how to see the broader context in my everyday work and how to be a good leader.

Meeting the National Statistician

The day started with a one-on-one meeting with Professor Sir Ian Diamond. We discussed my expectations and what I hoped to gain from the experience. I also learnt how much preparation goes into the meetings he attends. This preparation starts before he even enters the office. For every meeting he reads a meeting note which gives him:

  • the background to the meeting
  • any relevant data
  • details of the aim of the meeting

This showed me the importance of being well-prepared to contribute effectively to conversations.

Highlights from the day

One of the highlights of the day was sitting in on a project evaluation meeting. The meeting was around what had been learnt from the experience for next time. It was a positive meeting overall, which showed the importance of taking the time to learn from a project rather than just moving on to the next one.

After the project evaluation, we went to a presentation event that showed innovative methodologies used across the AF. The session emphasised the importance of embracing new technologies and methodologies to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of statistical processes. This is where I really saw the passion that Sir Ian has for analysis. He had a question to ask the presenters after every presentation. This taught me a lot about being curious about what you do.

Throughout the day, I met and worked with the National Statistician’s team. The closeness and camaraderie amongst the team was clear, and it was great to see the positive and supportive work environment they have created. This showed me how important it is to have a cohesive team to achieve successful outcomes.

The trust between team members was also clear throughout the day. It became clear to me throughout the day that taking responsibility and accountability for your decisions is all about trust in those around you. Having a good team is more than just the skills of the people you employ. It is about being able to trust your team to fill in the details you cannot see and support your decision making.

What I learned from the day

To summarise the National Statistician’s job, it is the ability to set the scene and guide teams along the way towards that end goal. The strategic thinking and foresight needed to navigate the complexities of the Civil Service was clear. I realised my role as a team leader was much the same: to present the main goal to my team members and support them with the tasks that contribute to that, albeit on a smaller scale than Sir Ian!

In conclusion, the experience of shadowing the National Statistician was immensely valuable. The day:

  • provided a first-hand look into the complexities of leadership within the Analysis Function
  • emphasised the importance of teamwork, curiosity, responsibility, and preparation

If there’s one message to take away, it’s that shadowing is worth every moment. This is especially true when you have a clear understanding of what you want to gain from the experience. The insights I gained during my day shadowing Sir Ian have changed my perspective and approach to future challenges, which will certainly contribute to my growth both personally and professionally.

Emily Holford
Natasha Bance
Emily Holford is the team leader for Schools and Revenue Funding Analysis in the Department for Education. She is a statistician based in Leeds.