User engagement strategy for statistics – ensuring official statistics meet society’s needs

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:11 February 2021
Author:Good Practice Team
Approver:Analysis and Evaluation Committee
Who this is for:Producers of official statistics
Type:Strategy
Contact:

goodpracticeteam@statistics.gov.uk

Summary

Why user engagement is important

We need to engage with users and potential users of our statistics to ensure our statistical products and services meet society’s needs.

What is in the strategy

This four-year strategy sets out a plan of action for building a more meaningful and sustained dialogue between producers, users and potential users of statistics.

Our vision for user engagement

User engagement is embedded into an organisation’s wider engagement activities and is actively implemented throughout the statistical development, production and review cycle.

The strategy’s goals

  • Goal one: Collaboration – collaborate across boundaries to offer a more coherent user experience
  • Goal two: Capability – build capability and equip producers of statistics with the practical skills and tools to deliver effective user engagement activities
  • Goal three: Culture – strengthen our culture and ensure user engagement is always an ongoing and essential part of a statistics producer’s role

How the strategy will be delivered

The strategy will build momentum for change with a phased implementation.

A central government team – the User Support and Engagement Resource (USER) hub – will be established to support the delivery of the strategy. Analysts and statisticians will be able to draw on the support and expertise of this hub to help direct engagement activities, share knowledge and learn new skills.

The USER hub and the established network of user engagement champions will support and promote the development of sustainable relationships and feedback loops between producers and users of statistics.

The strategy’s deliverables (ODT, 21KB) will measure the progress.

 

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Foreword

Statistics are produced across the UK public sector to serve the public good. This ambition is only achieved if our statistics are widely accessed and used, outside government and within.

Knowing the evidence people need to make better decisions and knowing how people consume and use that evidence is vital. With that information we can adjust how we work to bring together the right data and statistics, making them available at the right time and in a form people can easily use. While this won’t paint a perfect picture for everyone, there are many steps we can take to understand the different kinds of users of our statistics and to adjust how we work as a result.

This strategy sets out an ambitious plan of action for building a more meaningful and sustained dialogue between producers, users and potential users of statistics and other relevant stakeholders. That dialogue will be central to maximising the relevance and value of our statistics and to ensuring that the decisions made by producers of statistics about what we cover and how we present our information are informed and transparent. It will also ensure that the overall portfolio of statistics produced across the public sector commands wide public confidence and delivers the value that we all need.

This strategy has been developed for producers of official statistics within the UK. Its principles could also be applied to other forms of analysis and to those collating data and producing analysis within different professions, including across the Analysis Function.

We encourage you all to use this strategy to build on the effective engagement activities you are already doing to ensure our statistics continue to meet society’s needs.

Sir Ian Diamond and Siobhan Carey

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician and Siobhan Carey, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency

Steph Howarth and Roger Halliday

Stephanie Howarth, Chief Statistician, Welsh Government and Roger Halliday, Chief Statistician, Scottish Government

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What we want to achieve

We, as producers of statistics, want our statistics to:

  • underpin decision-making at all levels within and beyond government
  • benefit everyone, improve lives and help solve society’s biggest problems

We need our statistics to serve the public good by:

  • enhancing the public’s understanding of social, economic and environmental matters
  • delivering insight to drive the development and evaluation of public policy

To deliver these aspirations this strategy sets out a radical vision, three ambitious goals and a sustainable and inclusive approach to delivery. It will be delivered over four years (2021 to 2025) in line with the UK Statistics Authority’s strategy for statistics. This strategy promotes a flexible, proactive and proportionate approach to communicating and engaging with current and potential users of statistics to improve our statistical products and services.

It is well aligned with the UK Statistics Authority’s strategy for statistics, the principles of the National Data Strategy and with the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency’s (NISRA) corporate plan.

A step change in our approach to engaging with users is essential and urgent if we are to meet the longer-term goal of maintaining a trustworthy, high quality and valued statistical system in the UK. Organisations producing official statistics are expected to sign up to the strategy’s vision and goals and drive forward the implementation of the deliverables.

 

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Why user engagement is important

We need to engage with users and potential users of statistics to help us:

  • shape new and existing statistical products and services
  • gather and share feedback and expertise
  • ensure we are responsive to emerging and urgent needs
  • identify and fill gaps in knowledge and evidence

This will ensure our new and refined statistical products and services:

  • are relevant, fit for purpose and help answer people’s questions
  • make a real contribution to our better understanding of the world
  • instil confidence and deliver maximum impact and value to the user
  • empower better evidence-based decision-making

The Code of Practice for Statistics supports this stance and states that “users of statistics and data should be at the centre of statistical production; their needs should be understood, their views sought and acted on, and their use of statistics supported”. The quality pillar of the Code of Practice also reminds us that statistics should fit their intended uses. Producers of statistics will only know whether this element of quality continues to be achieved by regularly engaging with a full range of users.

Case study: Public Health England dashboard

Public Health England (PHE) have showcased their ongoing commitment to user engagement in developing the UK Coronavirus (COVID-19) data dashboard. This dashboard development is a great example of engaging with the public and data professionals to ensure the statistics are helping to answer people’s questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Case study: Office for National Statistics Population and Public Policy forums

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have been hosting a series of forums on cross-government topics to gain insight into the needs of policy makers and influencers, to help steer and prioritise their analytical projects. These forums, run by the Population and Public Policy (PPP) team, have been successful at engaging external audiences from a wide range of influential organisations across sectors including government, charities, trade bodies, researchers and academics.  

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Our vision

User engagement is second nature for all producers of statistics. It is embedded into an organisation’s wider engagement activities and actively implemented throughout the statistical development, production and review cycle.

Many producers of statistics are already carrying out regular and effective user engagement. The strategy aims to build on this good work to embed user engagement as an essential part of our role.

We will deliver this vision and address the barriers to effective user engagement via three goals:

  1. Goal one: Collaboration – collaborate across boundaries to offer a more coherent user experience
  2. Goal two: Capability – build capability and equip producers of statistics with the practical skills and tools to deliver effective user engagement activities
  3. Goal three: Culture – strengthen our culture and ensure user engagement is always an ongoing and essential part of a statistics producer’s role

What are the barriers to effective user engagement?

Evidence gathered from users and producers of statistics identified these common barriers to effective user engagement.

Users of statistics often find it difficult to identify the right person to talk to in the producing organisation.

In parallel, producers of statistics often find it difficult to:

  • join up activities and share knowledge within and across organisations
  • identify and engage with some of their users, especially secondary policy users

Users of statistics often find it difficult to know if and how their feedback has been used and whether it has made a difference.

In parallel, producers of statistics often find it difficult to:

  • identify and reach some disparate and niche users and potential users of their statistics
  • get a response from some users of statistics
  • select the most effective engagement techniques for their audience

Users of statistics often find it difficult to identify and take up opportunities to share their expertise, ideas or feedback.

In parallel, producers of statistics often find it difficult to:

  • allocate time to user engagement activities, secure senior support and hence commit resources to devote to this critical element of their work
  • motivate themselves and others to invest in user engagement

These are long-standing and challenging obstacles that this strategy will address.

The significant challenges of recent years, in particular the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, mean that producers of statistics will continue to face unprecedented demand on their resources. Nevertheless, this should not lessen our ambition to deliver on the strategy’s vision and goals as these demands offer a huge opportunity for us to be at the forefront of delivering evidence for the public good.

How this strategy will address the barriers to effective user engagement

The strategy will be delivered in phases to build momentum for change in a sustainable way.

Phase one

Phase one of the strategy will begin with showcasing and building on existing good work by sharing the many examples of effective engagement. The Best Practice and Impact division (BPI) within the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will lead the first phase of the strategy’s implementation to better understand and join-up current user engagement activities.

Phase two

A central government team – the USER hub (User Support and Engagement Resource hub) – will be established in phase two of the strategy. The USER hub will lead the way and deliver an inclusive and ambitious programme of engagement support packages. The hub will build on our strong desire to engage more often and more effectively.

Phase three

Phase three of the strategy will build on the efforts made in previous phases. This will rely on producers of statistics utilising the support of the USER hub to deliver their organisation’s vision for improved and sustained engagement. Refreshed and coordinated engagement activity tailored to different audiences and building on shared success stories will help deliver the culture change the strategy is seeking.

Role of the User Support and Engagement Resource (USER) hub

The USER hub will be an easily accessible central resource to support the implementation of this strategy. Bringing together analysts and user researchers, the team will provide a central hub for engagement advice and capability building available to all producers of statistics in the UK. The USER hub will ensure there is coherence across engagement activities and promote and coordinate collaboration across organisations to engage all users of statistics.

To support statistical producers to carry out effective user engagement, the USER hub will:

  • deliver training courses on user engagement – this will include how to identify users and how to engage with different user personas
  • update guidance on working with users to aid better engagement
  • set standards for user engagement and help define what good engagement looks like
  • share case studies showcasing effective engagement
  • mentor producers of statistics to help build capability and confidence to undertake engagement
  • offer a consultancy service to support and improve organisations’ engagement initiatives
  • carry out some central user engagement initiatives to support organisations, such as citizen panels
  • promote and help coordinate thematic user forums
  • lead and develop the user engagement champions network to share best practice throughout organisations
  • work closely with the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) to monitor engagement activities, share best practice examples and join-up initiatives

How does user research complement user engagement?

Engagement is just one part of the feedback circle – we need to do more than just engage. We need to showcase how engagement leads to better products that result in better impact. We need to encourage and respond to ideas and feedback and demonstrate what has changed as a result.

User research has similarities to user engagement as it involves interacting with our users and finding out their needs. It helps drive the development of statistical products by exploring user needs and testing solutions with users. The findings of this research are then used to iterate and deliver products that meet user needs. The result of a well-researched product is increased engagement.

User engagement focusses on continuing and improving the relationship our users have with us. Good user engagement helps us understand our users and their needs better. By bringing together user research and user engagement we can make our statistics as useful as possible.

The Government Digital Service sets out a standard for how it advocates services developed with user interests at heart. While this Service Standard largely applies to delivering digital services, it provides a useful framework and set of principles for ensuring work is underpinned by user needs.

Case study: ONS gathering user needs to shape statistical bulletins

The content design team at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have worked with a user researcher to understand how people access and use ONS statistical bulletins. This is a good practice example of applying user research to refine a statistical product that better meets user needs.  

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Goal one: Collaboration

Collaborate across boundaries to offer a more coherent user experience.

Why collaborating is important

With many public sector bodies producing, using and re-using data and statistics on similar themes in the UK, for example health, the economy and migration, we need to work together to communicate our statistics more coherently.

The Code of Practice for Statistics encourages strategic and collaborative user engagement within and across organisations.

How this goal will address the barriers to user engagement

Extending collaboration within organisations and across organisations and teams, will build better partnerships. This will enable us to share insights and engage with each other and all users of our statistics in a more coherent way.

Learning from others by showcasing successful case studies and joining up some of our engagement activities will help teams to build a better understanding of their different user bases.

Joining up activities, including thematic user forums will provide a sustainable mechanism for users to share ideas and feedback.

How we will deliver this goal

BPI and the USER hub will help identify and join up existing user engagement initiatives within and across organisations.

The USER hub will support departments to identify and build partnerships with organisations outside of government that have a mutual interest.

The USER hub will help coordinate a programme of thematic user forums focusing on topic areas that span the remit of many different parts of the public sector.

Case study: GSS Coherence Team improving housing and planning statistics

The GSS Coherence team in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have worked with a range of government departments and the Devolved Administrations to improve housing and planning statistics across the UK. This is an example of working together to share insights and engage users in a more coherent way. 

Case study: Welsh Government working with the media to present COVID-19 statistics

The Welsh Government has worked to ensure statistics around COVID-19 are interpreted correctly. This is a good example of working with people in different roles, such as: press officers and policy officials, to improve the communication of statistics.

Case study: NISRA Vital Statistics Branch Working across teams to present COVID-19 statistics to the media

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) Vital Statistics Branch has built partnerships with the media and set up technical briefing sessions. These have ensured COVID-19 statistics are interpreted correctly. This is a good example of working across teams to improve the communication of statistics to secondary users. 

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Goal two: Capability

Build capability and equip producers of statistics with the practical skills and tools to deliver effective user engagement activities.

Why building capability is important

We need to have the skillset to better understand our audience so we can confidently engage with the right people in the right way to ensure our statistics are relevant and have impact.

We need to tailor our communications to meet the needs of wider audiences and employ different techniques to engage with different users to deliver the step change required in our engagement activities.

How this goal will address the barriers to user engagement

Building our capability will allow us to confidently engage a wide range of audiences.

Utilising the skills of user researchers from the USER hub and elsewhere will help define how we reach niche and disparate audiences and how we set up and manage effective feedback loops.

Being able to draw on central resource and expertise to support engagement activities and target a wider audience should improve our capacity and capability to engage in the most effective and efficient way.

How we will deliver this goal

BPI will work with the network of user engagement champions to review the current landscape of user engagement.

Producers of statistics will share case studies of effective engagement activities to showcase on the GSS website.

The USER hub will provide a central user engagement consultancy and mentoring service for producers of statistics across government.

BPI and the USER hub will update and deliver user engagement training and guidance packages.

Case study: Office of Rail and Road using social media to reach a wider audience

The Office for Rail and Road (ORR) have explored different methods of engaging with their users including holding a Twitter Question and Answer session on their most popular statistical publication. Working with their communications team, ORR statisticians have built the capability to engage with and reach a wider audience on Twitter.  

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Goal three: Culture

Strengthen our culture and ensure user engagement is always an ongoing and essential part of a statistics producer’s role.

Why strengthening our user engagement culture is important

Engagement with users of our statistics needs to happen at strategic and operational levels to build sustainable and effective relationship and feedback cycles.

To fully understand how our statistics are used and could be used engagement should be viewed as an essential, everyday activity by statistical production teams, and as a strategic priority by their senior managers.

To align with the pillars of the Code of Practice for Statistics, producers of statistics must be clear that their role is not just to produce statistics, it is to ensure that the recipients of their statistics see them as trustworthy, of high quality and delivering value. Regularly engaging with a broad range of users will allow us to assess whether we have been successful.

How this goal will address the barriers to user engagement

Heads of Profession for statistics, supported by the National Statistician will drive forward a change in culture from the top of the organisation to embed user engagement into their organisation’s vision and purpose.

With the support of senior managers and team leaders, producers of statistics will be empowered to prioritise user engagement both on a day-to-day basis and in forward planning.

How we will deliver this goal

Heads of Profession for statistics and the National Statistician will lobby support at a senior level within organisations to help secure resource and buy-in to support the delivery of the user engagement strategy’s vision and goals.

The USER hub will share success stories of incorporating engagement activities into business as usual processes and will encourage and support producers of statistics to work towards this goal.

BPI, the USER hub and the user engagement champion network will support producers of statistics to make themselves more visible and accessible to a broader range of users.

Case study: ONS strengthening user engagement for travel and tourism statistics

Analysts across Social Surveys and the Migration Statistics Division within ONS have improved their communication and engagement with travel and tourism statistics stakeholders by engaging through a variety of channels. This has resulted in continuous and sustainable engagement with users which has led to a better understanding of what users want from the travel and tourism statistics ONS currently produces. 

Role of theme-based user groups and forums

User forums bring together interested parties, both internal and external to government, to discuss the use and usefulness of statistics and identify data gaps. These forums are often developed by theme, bringing together statistical producers from a range of areas who contribute to that subject area with people who use the statistics to support decision making.

Many statistical producers and their users already contribute to theme-based user forums. There is no single defined model for setting up and running such forums – a lot of different approaches have been taken over time and some run more successfully than others.

This strategy supports the expansion of theme-based forums. Work needs to be done to join up existing forums and coordinate engagement across groups.
The expansion of theme-based forums will help identify gaps in evidence and knowledge and co-ordination of these forums will ensure there is minimal duplication.

Theme-based user forums will be made up of statistical producers across organisations and representatives from interested user groups. As well as helping identify data gaps, these user forums will help shape the workplan for improvements and make recommendations on engagement, with the expectation they will undertake inclusive and proportionate engagement with a wider range of stakeholders on specific work.

StatsUserNet is an existing online discussion platform organised around theme-based groups, facilitating engagement between users and producers of official statistics. At present, this channel is also complemented by the Statistics User Forum which meets three times a year to discuss the needs and views of the user community. There is a strong commitment to join up across government to strengthen the theme-based approach developed through StatsUserNet to build a multi-platform network that creates more in-depth conversations and more engagement opportunities.

This new, multi-platform network could be used to support the development and maintenance of theme-based user forums. Further work will be undertaken to determine user needs and how they would be met by the new network.

Case study: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) runs a long-established user forum covering construction and housing statistics produced by several government departments. This Consultative Committee for Construction Industry Statistics (CCCIS) is a mechanism to consult with users about outputs and plans for development. It has also helped to build relationships and improve analysis and research outside government.  

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Monitoring and measuring success 

The development of this strategy fulfils recommendation two from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) 2019 report into the governance of official statistics. PACAC requires the UK Statistics Authority to report at least annually to Parliament on progress delivering the strategy.

The ONS, government organisations and other producers of official statistics, supported by the USER hub and the network of user engagement champions will have an important role to play in the success of the strategy.

Progress against the deliverables will be monitored regularly and measured at the end of each delivery phase:

Phase 1

Building on the knowledge gained through interviewing users and producers of statistics, a baseline of activity and sentiment against which future progress can be measured will be mapped out. This may include conducting a survey of producers and users of statistics. The Best Practice and Impact (BPI) division will lead this phase and report progress against deliverables monthly to the BPI senior leadership team.

Phase 2

This will see the establishment of the USER hub – a hub for user support and engagement resource. A user engagement delivery board will monitor activities of this central team. Progress will be reported to Heads of Profession for statistics and Chief Statisticians in the devolved administrations and the Analysis and Evaluation Committee on a biannual basis.

Phase 3

The final phase will see organisations producing their own action plans to meet the strategic goals. The USER hub will monitor progress against these action plans, report to BPI and the Analysis and Evaluation committee on a biannual basis, and report annually to PACAC.

Other mechanisms for measuring success will include:

  • monitoring the outcome of OSR compliance checks and formal National Statistics assessments on an annual basis
  • conducting a satisfaction survey at the 2-year milestone to ask producers if they have found user engagement easier over the period and ask users if they feel their voices have been heard and listened to
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Background information and glossary

User engagement is about building sustainable relationships and feedback loops between statistics producers, users and potential users of statistics and other relevant stakeholders.

It can be collaborative both within and across organisations and themes and strives to make statistics accessible to a wider range of potential users.

Engagement can take many different forms.

It can be:

  • bespoke or strategic
  • quick or long-term
  • formal or informal

It can include:

  • a short or sustained conversation
  • an email response to a query
  • a post on social media
  • a ministerial briefing
  • a facilitated focus group
  • a briefing with the media
  • a pop-up online survey
  • an in-depth consultation

Engagement works best when it has multiple coordinated strands and is tailored to the audience.

Users of statistics come from a broad range of different backgrounds and organisations and they may need to answer very different questions. We need to cater for them all.

They include:

  • citizens
  • voluntary organisations
  • media
  • business
  • academics
  • analysts from across and outside government
  • policy makers
  • parliamentarians

They may be:

  • technical experts
  • expert analysts
  • interested members of the public
  • survey respondents
  • first time users of government statistics

They may need to:

  • conduct research
  • evaluate policies
  • plan and allocate finances
  • find answers to queries on topical matters such as heath or education
  • search for government statistics

This strategy has been developed by the GSS Good Practice Team through collaboration with statistics producers and their users. The team, situated in the Best Practice and Impact (BPI) division supports the GSS and the wider Government Analysis Function to improve government analysis.

Between February 2020 and September 2020, the project team interviewed over 40 different statistics producers and over 50 users and potential users of government statistics. Engagement methods included:

  • 1-2-1 interviews
  • webinars
  • user forums
  • an online survey

These findings were complemented by desk research highlighting international and industry best practice.

We will deliver the strategy in three phases.

Phase 1: understanding the landscape

Timing: March 2021 to October 2021

Phase 1 is about:

  • understanding the baseline of current user engagement activities
  • exploring strategic governance options for theme-based user groups
  • working with leaders in an organisation to have conversations about the importance of user engagement
  • organisations setting out their vision for improved user engagement
  • sharing and promoting what successful engagement looks like
  • identifying areas that might need more targeted support
Who will deliver this?

This phase of work will be led and delivered by BPI, with the help of the National Statistician, Heads of Profession for statistics and the user engagement champion network.

Phase 2: developing capability

Timing: July 2021 onwards

Phase 2 is about:

  • establishing the USER hub to help develop the capability of statistics producers
  • developing toolkits, guidance and training to help classify product types and user personas
  • providing a mentoring and consultancy service to support producers of statistics
  • identifying where theme-based user forums can add most value

The USER hub is expected to be resourced by a small team of analysts and user researchers.

Who will deliver this?

This phase of work will be led and delivered by the USER hub, with the help of BPI and the user engagement champion network.

Phase 3: action plans and transparency

Timing: January 2022 onwards

Phase 3 is about:

  • producers of statistics actively showcasing their use of the USER hub’s toolkit for user engagement, engaging in theme-based user forums and participating in a wide range of other engagement activities
  • sharing and promoting the outcomes of user engagement activities
  • organisations detailing how they will implement the strategy’s goals and work towards their vision for improved engagement set out in Phase 1
  • supporting producers of statistics to make themselves more visible and accessible to a broad range of users
Who will deliver this?

This phase of work will be led and delivered by producers of statistics, with the help of the USER hub, the user engagement champion network and BPI.

  1. Best Practice and Impact division (BPI) – BPI supports everyone in the GSS and the wider Government Analysis Function to improve government analysis.
  2. Code of Practice for Statistics – the Code of Practice for Statistics sets the standards that producers of official statistics should commit to. Compliance with the Code gives you confidence that published government statistics have public value, are high quality, and are produced by people and organisations that are trustworthy.
  3. Government Analysis Function – a cross-government network of around 17,000 civil servants involved in the generation and dissemination of analysis.
  4. Government Statistical Service (GSS) – the cross-government community of all civil servants working in the collection, production and communication of official statistics.
  5. Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) – OSR is the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority, a body established by the Statistics and Registration Service Act (2007). It is independent from government ministers and separate from producers of statistics. Their role is to set the statutory Code of Practice for Statistics, assess compliance with the Code of Practice and award National Statistics designation.
  6. Official statistics – statistics produced by crown bodies, those acting on behalf of crown bodies, or those specified in statutory orders, as defined in section 6 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. The term official statistics includes National Statistics, experimental statistics and statistics that have not been assessed as fully compliant with the Code of Practice for Statistics.
  7. Organisation – organisations here include ministerial departments, non-ministerial departments, agencies and other public bodies who produce official statistics.
  8. Potential users of statistics – there are primary and secondary users of statistics. We are less familiar with the full range of secondary users of our statistics and we often rely on others such as the media to spread our statistical messages to these groups. We have classified these unknown secondary users of statistics as potential users of statistics. They can be anyone who might use our statistics.
  9. Producers of statistics – in this strategy, a producer of statistics is anyone who produces official statistics.
  10. Public good – our statistics should serve a very wide range of users and answer people’s questions. Our references to serving the public good in the strategy are based on the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 definition and include:
    1. informing the public about social and economic matters
    2. assisting in the development and evaluation of public policy
  11. Statistics – statistics in this strategy refer to official statistics.

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Delivery plan

The strategy’s deliverables (ODT 21KB)

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