ONS looks to ‘overhauled and truly modern population statistics system’
National statistician discusses desire to provide government with census-type data more than once a decade
National statistician Sir Ian Diamond reflects on the delivery of the decennial census, and how the Office National Statistics could achieve similar results more than just every 10 years.
What has been your highlight of the last 12 months?
The rapid production of the ONS personal inflation calculator which is a hugely valuable tool. The headline figures you read in the news are one thing, but each of us has our very own individual rate of inflation, because we all spend our money on different things. During what has been a very tough year financially, our calculator gives people the chance to find out what their personal inflation rate is so they can see how they may have been impacted by rises in the cost of living. It’s already been used by over a million people.
What was your most difficult decision in 2022?
It is always a huge responsibility to sign off the results of a census because the need for governments, at all levels, to understand their populations is absolutely crucial. In 2021, we led an outstanding census fieldwork process with extensive user engagement, easy-to-use electronic questionnaires and top-class management information. In addition, we strengthened inclusivity and user engagement by sharing preliminary estimates with respective local authorities. This meant that, together with the greatly improved administrative data now available for our robust quality assurance processes, the first results published in June 2022 were incredibly well received.
What is the biggest challenge facing your organisation in 2023, and how will you meet that challenge as an organisation?
While the census provides crucial insights, it only does so once a decade. We are exploring the development of more frequent, relevant, and timely population statistics with administrative data at the heart of a new system. As this research develops, we want to capture wide-ranging views on our progress towards an overhauled and truly modern population statistics system. If you are a user of population statistics, please look out for a consultation during the first half of next year. Responses will feed into the national statistician’s recommendation to government at the end of 2023 on what is needed for us to continue to realise our ambitions for more frequent, timely and inclusive population and social statistics.
And personally, as a leader?
I want to continue to build a truly inclusive culture across all our offices – one based on trust and respect. Inclusivity is one of our strategic priorities and we are continually striving for improvement. We have several initiatives underway, including Diversity into Leadership programmes for female and ethnic minority colleagues, improving the collection and use of our corporate diversity data, and our evolving hybrid working policy. However, we must continue to look for opportunities to challenge prejudices, champion a diversity of backgrounds and opinions, and to create a working environment that benefits everyone.
It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season?
The best experience of working in the festive season was the incredible spirit in the ONS Covid team last Christmas when, given the speed of increase of the Omicron variant we agreed to put out estimates of infections on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. This maintained the continuity of our vital surveillance of Covid infections during a key phase of the pandemic.
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