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Sofi Nickson, Head of Research

10 July 2024, 11:27 UTC Share

Beyond numbers: Demystifying statistics regulation

When I say that I work at the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), you might be thinking:

1) I have no idea what OSR is, or
2) Is OSR part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS)? Or
3) I imagine their work is all about maths, so I may as well stop reading this blog.

If you bear with me, I hope to move you towards thinking:

1) Statistics regulation is so much more than checking numbers, and
2) OSR does a lot of work that is really interesting, and
3) I want to read their Areas of Research Interest statement and go to their event in September to learn more about how I can work with them!

To start that journey, you will need to know a little more about OSR. In brief, we are the independent regulator of official statistics in the UK. While both ONS and OSR are branches of the UK Statistics Authority (a non-ministerial government department), we are not part of ONS and we don’t produce any statistics ourselves.

Our work at OSR is broad. As you may have guessed, we do set standards to assess and accredit statistics, but this isn’t just about making sure the numbers are accurate. We continually strive to understand what drives trust in numbers, how we can balance different dimensions of quality, and to understand the different approaches available to conceptualise and measure value.

This supports our Code of Practice for Statistics (the Code) which has three pillars: trustworthiness, quality, and value. The first pillar, trustworthiness, underpins any good relationship – we aim to be transparent and competent, ensuring confidence and credibility. We also pursue excellence, illustrated in our second pillar (quality), striving to uphold high standards by ensuring the right methods and data are used. With the third pillar, value, we seek meaningful impact to ensure that statistics are actually useful and meet the needs of those who could benefit from them.

We draw inspiration from a huge range of disciplines – we have worked with methodologists, philosophers, qualitative and quantitative researchers, with collaborations that span the UK and beyond. Many of these collaborations have been with academia – we believe that academics play a crucial role in safeguarding official statistics as a public asset.

If that hasn’t convinced you that our work is broad, let me tell you about our casework function. This is where we investigate potential issues with statistics; for example, if a public figure uses a statistic inappropriately, we will investigate and intervene. These potential issues often cover instances where a statistic is communicated in a way that could be considered misleading, which is why we have invested in exploring and understanding misleadingness as a concept. We also have a research function, where we undertake and procure primary and secondary research to explore how statistics serve the public good and seek to establish what can be done to support this. Both functions directly contribute to our vision: that statistics will serve the public good.

One of the ways we work towards our vision is by collaborating with academics from various disciplines and institutions. We value the insights and expertise that academia can offer to inform and improve our work. We also welcome opportunities to share our knowledge and experience with the academic community, to support you in achieving your goals too. Successful collaborations in the past have included:

  • Procuring consultancy: We sometimes procure low-value consultancy. If you would like to be considered for this, please inform us about your areas of expertise and we will record this for future opportunities.
  • Promoting relevant work: When appropriate, we can support research dissemination to a government audience, such as through guest blogs and analyst seminars.
  • Convening advisory groups and panels: Our work is informed by advisory groups and expert panels. If you are interested in sitting on one of these groups, get in touch to be considered for future invitations.
  • Supporting funding bids: As part of government, we can explore with you how your work may be relevant to us in government – if it is likely to contribute to our aims we may be willing to write a letters of support for it.
  • Sharing research and evidence: We collate research related to our Areas of Research Interest – if you have relevant evidence please share it with us, so we can increase its impact by drawing on it in our own work and sharing it with other interested parties.

If anything I have mentioned so far sounds appealing to you, I encourage you to join us for our online event ‘UPEN x OSR: Areas of Research Interest’ on September 18th, where we will discuss our research interests, share examples of previous successful collaborations and answer any questions you may have. If you can’t wait until then, take a look at our Areas of Research Interest statement — this sets out the questions for which we hope to find the answers, and provides some suggestions about how you can get involved. You can also get in touch with me or my team at any time, by e-mailing us at

I hope that you have found this blog post interesting, and that I have convinced you that OSR’s work is something that you would like to be a part of. Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you in September!

Office for Statistics Regulation Areas of Research Interest Tickets, Wed, Sep 18, 2024 at 1:00 PM | Eventbrite


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