Office for National Statistics told to pick an Innovation Champion

Written by Suzannah Brecknell on 5 October 2016 in News
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The Office for National Statistics should appoint a board-level Innovation Champion to help it get better at turning new ideas into reality, according to a fresh review of the official statistics body's structure.

The ONS needs to appoint an innovation champion, says new review - Photo credit: Fotolia

Andrew Garrett – a businessman who is also a data science ambassador for the Royal Statistics Authority and serves on the UK Administrative Data Research Network – was asked by the ONS to take a detailed look at the methodology, skills, tools and organisational changes needed to implement the findings of this year's Bean review of national statistics.

The earlier review, by former deputy Bank of England Governor Charlie Bean, said the ONS needed to undergo a “culture change” to equip it for the digital economy, with Bean calling for the stats body to become more user-focused and collaborative.

Garrett's new report was supported by an expert group including senior statisticians from Microsoft, Barclays, the former business department and the New Zealand government.


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Seeking to build on the Bean review findings, Garrett said: “It is important to have a high-profile champion for innovation within ONS given its importance and the requirement for a cultural shift."

A board-level champion could, it said link “innovation strategy, planning and evaluation within ONS", and also "support horizon scanning by accessing external networks”.

Garrett's report calls for a more strategic view of innovation within the methodology team itself, and urges a flatter and more streamlined structure for the ONS Methodology unit.

A new “forward-looking and outward-facing leader” should be put in place to build partnerships with other methodology teams across the Government Statistical Service (GSS), and with international partners and in organisations such the Bank of England.

“Methodology should also drive the [innovation] agenda,” the review said, “and not simply respond to these business requests".

“An outward-looking methodology group that is aware of developments in the broader research community, should join the dots, share ideas with ONS and GSS, and make clear recommendations," it added.

The report is clear, however, that quality must remain the number one focus for the ONS as a whole, because the organisation has "a clear remit to produce statistics that others can rely upon".

Garrett also called for a clearer framework for assessing innovation across the ONS, tracking it from idea to implementation.

“Such a framework should ensure that if projects fail, that they fail early and that strategic innovation projects have clear plans, check-in points, and agreed measures of success,” the review said.

While Garrett said the ONS needs to create more methodology posts at each of its three sites, he also echoed the Bean review, which called for a greater London for the organisation to help improve its external engagement.

“There are advantages to having staff on all sites in terms of the talent pool, building relationships with GSS and data owners more generally, and for ease of attendance at professional meetings,” Garrett said.

“London in particular has a vibrant, energetic and very active data science community which should be built upon.”

He added: “A greater London presence would also facilitate increased secondments to ONS from GSS, and vice-versa which would build stronger relationships and break down barriers. It would also facilitate secondments and relationship building with other bodies.”

About the author

Suzannah Brecknell is senior reporter at Public Technology's sister site, Civil Service World, where this article first appeared.

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