Hearing the word 'statistics' can often lead to a mild sense of panic – the tightness around the collar at the memory of a Monday morning maths test – or to exasperation at the thought of yet another set of manufactured figures that suit the storyteller.
But for those of us who have spent a career working with statistics, we see them in a different way. For me, they do tell a story but it is a work of fact rather than fiction. They tell us about our experiences across all parts of our lives. It isn't an individual story, but about society and about groups and communities – of family and faith, work and workless, those healthy and those unwell. The focus is on serving the public good.
Public service is a vital and honourable commitment. Society relies on each of the many manifestations of public service to deliver what is needed, where and when it is needed. Information is essential in directing these activities and decisions. But do you know what information can be trusted?
The Code of Practice for Statistics – which has just been updated to reflect the changing environment of data and the growing interest in how statistics are used in public discussions – sets the standard. Those producing official statistics commit to behaving in line with the Code. At its heart are three pillars, universal goals to guide the production and use of all evidence: trustworthiness, quality and value.
'Trustworthiness’ means that you can have confidence in the people and organisations that produce the statistics and data. 'Quality' means that the data and methods produce assured statistics. 'Value' means that the statistics support society's needs for information.
This is a new framework that we introduced in our second edition of the Code in February 2018. It followed a series of conversations and consultations we’ve had with statistics producers and other stakeholders since 2015, about what we all need from the Code in our now data-rich world, when confidence in information is as vital as ever.
In fact, the Code doesn't just apply to those producing the statistics. It calls on all those working in public organisations to behave with integrity when handling any data and statistics. Everyone can work to build the reputation of an organisation by ensuring it demonstrates its trustworthiness. Anyone entering information into systems can work to make sure it is of a high quality. With collaborative working across an organisation, every staff member can share their insights and requirements to ensure statistics always remain relevant and able to deliver information necessary to support decision making.
Statistics are for all – and we can all play a role in ensuring that they are trustworthy, of high quality and valuable.