Two more draft protocols for the NS Code of Practice have been published for consultation. The first on User Consultation (December 2002) and the second on Quality Management (January 2003) are available online at w w w. s t a t i s t i c s . g o v. u k / a b o u t ns/consultations.asp. The deadline for submissions is 11 April.

The Principles embodied in the first protocol are that:

  1. User consultation will be an integral part of the statistical process
  2. Engagement with users will aim to be clear, simple and transparent
  3. Engagement with users will aim to be focused, scaled and inclusive
  4. Consultations will be co-ordinated to maximise value and minimise burden

Some criticisms which may be levelled at the text are that it uses vague language; has too much reference to 'may' and not enough to 'will'; has compliance which is too reactive; and indicates that responsibility for coordination is too scattered. There is a lack of clarity about accountability, budget planning, the process and criteria for identifying users, and for deciding on what sort of consultations to initiate. There is no mention of enforcement or evaluation.

Some questions suggest themselves. Is the protocol an improvement on current practice? Would it have solved past problems? How should compliance be monitored? Should there be a minimum set of consultation activities? How should consultation be co-ordinated? How should users be identified? And contacted? And is the description of Users satisfactory?

The second protocol has resonance for users insofar as they need to have confidence in NS.

Two protocols of particular interest to users are still to appear, one on Managing Provider Burden, as there has always been conflict between the interests of data providers and users, even though they may belong to the same organisation and another on Customer Services.

In the end, does the Code and its protocols subscribe to generally desirable, indisputable principles of the type spelled out in the headline? Consultation seems to result in improvement. So take the offered opportunity.

A report on a recent meeting on the User Consultation Protocol organised by the RSS Official Statistics Group is to be found on the BSUG NEWS website