2 Finding official statistics
5. In its written evidence to us, the Statistics
Authority expressed a view common to most evidence submitted to
The Statistics Authority starts from the perspective
that official statistics are collected and managed at public expense
and must justify that expenditure by contributing as much as possible
to decision-making in all parts of society and the economy. However,
official statistics can only do that if those who need to use
them know that they exist, can find them when they need them,
and can understand their relevance and utility.
6. Producers of official statistics, including
the ONS and government departments, will generally publish their
statistics on their own websites. Two sites bring together official
statistics: the National Statistics publication hub brings together
first releases of accredited National Statistics, while data.gov.uk
is a more general site for public data releases.
7. The Statistics Commission, the predecessor
of the Statistics Authority, undertook two research projects into
the ease of access to public statistics. In its detailed report
resulting from these projects, published in June 2007, it set
out eight principles of statistical dissemination, as listed in
the box below. Many
of the findings of that report have been echoed in evidence to
Principles of statistical dissemination,
Statistics Commission, June 2007
1 Statistics are collected to be used and as
wide a use of them as is possible should be encouraged.
2 UK government statisticians should adopt an
exploratory and experimental approach to dissemination and access
to statistical data through the Internet.
3 Government departments that publish official
statistics should seek the full involvement of other web professionals
in the presentation of statistical data on their websites.
4 Government departments that publish official
statistics should recognise that web design and web culture are
still developing and should set up an appropriate mechanism to
keep accessibility issues under review.
5 User needs, interests and capabilities should
determine the design and operation of statistical dissemination
over the Internet.
6 Statistical products should be specifically
designed for the Web.
7 Data should be presented in a layered or hierarchical
way to allow users to drill down to the level of detail they desire.
8 There should be one point of entry - a government
statistics portal - giving access to official statistics across
the UK government and those of the devolved authorities.
8. The ONS website has long been a subject of
complaint by users. It was redeveloped in 2011, but many users
of statistics still report problems in finding the official statistics
they need. This point was frequently made in the written evidence
to this inquiry. The Market Research Society wrote "It is
not easy to find data on the ONS website or publication hub. Making
it easier would be the single greatest contribution to better
access and communication".
The Statistics Users Forum told us "All too often it is extremely
difficult even for the expert user to find the statistics they
need from the ONS and departmental websites. Search engines leave
much to be desired - most users rely on Google".
Chris Giles, Economics Editor at the Financial Times, talked us
through the laborious process through which he - even as an expert
user - had gone through to find the answer to the question "is
unemployment now higher or lower than it was in the mid-1990s?"
9. Jil Matheson, the National Statistician, and
Andrew Dilnot, the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, told
us that they recognised the picture painted by our witnesses,
and that the website was poor and had got worse following redevelopment
in 2011. Andrew Dilnot said that the "relaunch of the ONS
website [...] was not one of our greatest moments, and at that
time the website became difficult to use, difficult to navigate,
difficult to search".
Jil Matheson described the website relaunch in 2011 as "really
disappointing", and stated "I am a user of the [ONS]
website as well as responsible for it and I share that frustration".
She added "There have been improvements, but the improvements
that are there now are only part of a process. There is more to
come [...] this is an ongoing development programme".
10. Although the issue of effective
dissemination of statistics has been thoroughly explored, including
six years ago by the Statistics Commission, progress has been
slow. The ONS website and its relaunch in 2011 is a disappointment
but we welcome the acknowledgment by the ONS of the problem. We
note that they have undertaken to make substantial improvements
to the website. Further improvements should be made as soon as
possible to make the website accessible to ordinary users. We
recommend that the ONS report progress to us and publish the report
on the ONS website. We recommend the ONS also publish its plans
for future improvements on its website. We recommend the ONS systematically
seek and publish the views of users in order to inform further
improvements to the functionality and presentation of official
statistics on the ONS website.
11. There are many places in
which official statistics are published; this is confusing to
both the regular and the occasional user. The relationship between
data.gov.uk, departmental websites and the ONS website is not
clear. We recommend that the National Statistician review,
update and adopt the principles set out by the Statistics Commission
in 2007 and urgently take a greater role in sign-posting users
to different groups of statistics. The Statistics Authority should
publish information on how data.gov.uk relates to other websites
showing government statistics.
3 Ev 50 Back
Statistics Commission, Report No.34 Data on Demand - Access
to Official Statistics, June 2007 Back
Ev 33 Back
Ev 44 Back
Q 48 [Mr Giles] Back
Q 90 Back
Q 93 Back
Q 93 Back