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Evidence week: evidence strong!

Last week saw the first ever ‘Evidence Week’ in Parliament. As Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, said in his introduction to the week: “objective evidence has a vital role – arguably the biggest role – in making the trade-offs that lie behind all policy-making.”

The week was packed full of events on ‘questioning quality’, ‘navigating data analysis and statistics’, ‘how do we know what works’, ‘how to disaggregate data’ and on ‘wicked problems’ like how clean is your air, health inequalities and obesity.

The GSS was a leading voice along with the Office for Statistics Regulation, who led a session on the key questions parliamentarians can ask when faced with statistics. The range of partner organisations and supporters who share our passion to mobilise the power of data to help make better decisions was inspiring. Sense about Science, the House of Commons Library, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, SAGE publishing, the Royal Statistical Society, the Alliance for Useful Evidence, a large number of community groups, journalists, politicians and many others all turned out to celebrate and advocate for better use of evidence to serve the public good.

For me Evidence Week gave ample opportunity to see strong evidence that our work is increasingly hitting the mark. The publication on Monday of statistics on student suicides in partnership with the Samaritans and universities is one of an increasing number of statistical products designed to provide insights into difficult topics of public interest. This work also demonstrated the value of joining forces across government and across sectors to create useful new outputs.

On Monday evening, I joined many others in the Churchill Room at the House of Commons to mark the start of Evidence Week before taking the train to Chichester. Southern Trains did not cover themselves in glory but I still managed a decent night’s sleep before meeting ONS colleagues at 7:30am on Tuesday morning to open the inaugural meeting of the Titchfield City Group at Chichester University.

The Titchfield City Group has been established by the United Nations Statistical Commission as the global centre for the measurement of ageing and age-disaggregated statistics. Representatives from over 30 countries as well as UN agencies and non-government organisations had travelled to the event to help shape a programme of work to improve the evidence base in an area of growing importance across the world.

Another train journey took me back to London to lead an Evidence Week event with Iain Bell on the census. Again, a great turn out of people interested in helping us shape the programme that is at the heart of the transformation of UK statistics.

On Wednesday, I was at the Titchfield Festival Theatre for a walk on part in the annual ONS Excellence Awards. It was a great show with many stars amply demonstrating innovation, diversity and teamwork. In a busy week it was the highlight, and a real inspiration with yet more strong evidence of our commitment and contribution to public service.

Thursday saw the UKSA Board meeting, the first for new Non-Executive Director, Anne Trefethen. The main items of business were the census, Brexit planning, communications strategy and trade statistics. The deep dive into trade statistics showed another example of a rapid response to an urgent need to help decision makers. The transformation in the way trade statistics are compiled and communicated demonstrated great leadership and teamwork against tight deadlines with demanding users.

After the Board meeting I went back to the House of Commons to be part of a closing panel for Evidence Week exploring the gaps we need to fill to drive up still further our contribution. I focused on the need to improve data literacy so that people in all walks of life can use statistics and evidence to make better decisions for themselves (and can also spot when others are trying to mislead them). Others stressed the importance of making evidence relatable to people and building partnerships. We finished strengthened with a real sense of common purpose.

All in all, an inspiring week with strong evidence supporting all of us working to deliver better statistics for better decisions.


John Pullinger
Denise Sexton
John Pullinger is the National Statistician. He is the UK Statistics Authority’s and the Government’s principal adviser on official statistics. He is the Head of the Government Statistical Service (GSS) and, as the Authority’s Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary, is a member of the Board of the UK Statistics Authority.