NEWS FROM THE RSS Official Statistics Section


Report by Ulric Spencer of meeting of 6 March 2003

This meeting brought together a number of keen National Statistics watchers to comment on and bring to the attention of ONS aspects of the User Consultation protocol.

Stephen Penneck, ONS set the scene, starting with the launch of National Statistics and the Framework. There was a focus on responsibility, stakeholders and users.

Users types are varied, and different approaches were needed for each. This applied to methods of consultation.

The next steps were to collate views, redraft, correlate with other protocols, reissue and review in a year's time. The publication of the Work Programme had been retimed to allow the results of consultation to have more influence.

Barbara Buckley, Statistics Commission welcomed the commitment to user consultation, the basic principles, and the recognition of the diversity of users and the consequent diversity of ways of consulting them. What needs strengthening is: reporting, including on evaluation; co-ordination arrangements, including a champion for consultation; resources for consultation, and: guidance of producers on the identification of users, and on what sort of consultation in what circumstances.

What else would be desirable? Something on the 'big picture', overall balance and the assessment of gaps; the determination of priorities between users, especially when users have conflicting views. It would have been helpful to have been able to consider the Customer Services protocol at the same time. [It is possible that both protocols might be merged.]

Ian Maclean, Statistics Users' Council felt that National Statistics meant nothing if not based on the user community. All mechanisms were essential to ensure progress. The UK lays emphasis on integrity whilst elsewhere, statistics are provided in a democracy to make decisions. There was a need for a product development policy and a marketing approach. 

National Statistics and the Statistics Commission seemed to be engaged in a form of ping-pong. There was no mention of mechanisms. A culture change was needed.

Dean Leadbeter, Health Statistics Users' Group distinguished between what people are required to do and what they want to do, and needed guidance on good practice. Why does it matter to the person consulting, or to the user?

How to make it happen needed the identification of users and reaching out more. Emailing and having a website presence was not enough. Sending a short summary was helpful but there was a need to attract attention. How was it intended to reach 'shop-floor' people and the wider public?

Alison Macfarlane, Health Statistics Users' Group commented on aspects relating to health data.

Martin Weale, Statistics Commission and National Institute of Economic and Social Research 
gave examples of the effects of consultation. One with a positive outcome was on the European System of Accounts, which originally postulated a single figure for investment, without any breakdown by sector or type of asset. A horrified reaction from users resulted in improvement. A negative (no change) reaction related to reliability ratings (A, B, C, D) - less prominence given to those on levels but not to those on rates of change. Eurostat had avoided the issue for individual countries. More action was required, which would benefit the reputation of ONS.

Stephen Penneck responded that public debate might be more appropriate for the Work Programme than the protocol.

Other speakers mentioned the workload which consultation created, and would the results of consultation have more effect than in the past, 

Colette Bowe, Statistics Commission emphasised the desirability of a Users' Champion. How was it going to be possible to make such change? It was necessary to make someone accountable.

James Denman, ONS asked how it would be possible to measure the effectiveness of a Champion,. No problem was Colette Bowe's answer.

Ian Maclean suggested that this should have been the role of the Statistics Commission, but it had rejected it.

Simon Briscoe, Official Statistics Section and Financial Times requested that every press release should have an email address to which users could send their views..