The Royal Statistical Society’s been in the data busi­ness now for a hun­dred and eighty years. We love work­ing with ODI, who’s been around for three years, because we find we’re say­ing the same thing with dif­fer­ent voic­es, with the same agen­da.

For the RSS, the data agenda’s absolute­ly embed­ded in our his­to­ry. Charles Booth was one of our ear­ly pres­i­dents, map­ping where pover­ty lay side by side with wealth in London. Florence Nightingale was our first female fel­low, map­ping how dis­ease was spread­ing in hos­pi­tals in the Crimea. And we’ve been think­ing at the RSS about how can data help sup­port pros­per­i­ty. How can it help sup­port democ­ra­cy? And how can it help sup­port bet­ter pol­i­cy?

And our answer was this, our lit­tle Data Manifesto. It’s got ten rec­om­men­da­tions, and it I don’t have time to take you through all of them in detail in the that time that I’ve got. But I want­ed to give you the head­lines. If you drop me an email or tweet me, I’m very hap­py to send you a copy of it. And here we’re talk­ing about the full range of the data spec­trum that has been described ear­li­er. Let me pick out five key themes that real­ly come out of the Data Manifesto.

The first is to invest to cre­ate and get the data that we need. And this par­tic­u­lar­ly means invest­ing in sci­ence, and research, and devel­op­ment. As a coun­try, we’re falling behind in this area at the moment, com­pared to oth­er coun­tries. And this is real­ly the source of long-term pros­per­i­ty. Now, good sci­ence does need to be open sci­ence. We’re see­ing an increas­ing prob­lem about the repro­ducibil­i­ty of sci­ence. If you actu­al­ly re-run exper­i­ments, you’ll find that you can’t get them to give the same results that you got the first time round. So the data must be open, and we must encour­age peo­ple to repro­duce the results of sci­ence. That’s got­ta be the quid pro quo, but we’ve got to invest in the first place.

Similarly, gov­ern­ment data. If we’re going to change the way the gov­ern­ment takes its approach to learn­ing about the world that we live in and the soci­ety we are, we need to invest in good-quality sta­tis­tics and data gath­er­ing. One exam­ple of that is the cen­sus. The gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted to chang­ing the way we do the cen­sus by 2031, going away from the old mod­el which is gath­er­ing data once every ten years, to mov­ing to much more real-time data from your dri­ving license appli­ca­tions, from your GP records, and so on. But to make that switch, we’re going to have to have invest­ment and a new way of think­ing.

The sec­ond is to open the data. I’m not going to say too much about that, because you already bought into this idea. But let me just pick out a few things which per­haps haven’t been talked about so much. The first is pri­vate sec­tor data. The pri­vate sector’s got a crit­i­cal role to play. When we talk about open data, we’re often talk­ing about open­ing up gov­ern­ment data. But actu­al­ly the pri­vate sec­tor is hold­ing more and more impor­tant dates which needs to be opened up.

One of the areas the RSS has been cam­paign­ing is around phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies. We’ve been work­ing with the AllTrials group which Ben Goldacre set up, look­ing at can we make sure that phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies reg­is­ter their tri­als so that actu­al­ly you know the results that you’re get­ting from phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal tri­als are not skewed towards the pos­i­tive. Every tri­al is reg­is­tered and open.

Similarly, as we’re find­ing more and more pri­vate sec­tor com­pa­nies are deliv­er­ing pub­lic ser­vices, we’re not hold­ing them nec­es­sar­i­ly to the same stan­dards in terms of their account­abil­i­ty around data. So schools, hospitals…if it’s a pri­vate sec­tor com­pa­ny, our view is that they’ve got to be held to the same data stan­dards as the pub­lic sec­tor.

And one oth­er thing I’d pick out, which I haven’t heard the open data com­mu­ni­ty say enough about is the recent threats to the Freedom of Information Act. That the gov­ern­ment has set up a new FOI com­mis­sion to review the Freedom of Information leg­is­la­tion. Hilariously, the FOI com­mis­sion is not FOI-able itself. The first meet­ing that it gave, jour­nal­ists had to redact var­i­ous things because they couldn’t even say who was giv­ing the infor­ma­tion to them. So, this slight­ly Kafkaesque pic­ture I think needs the open data com­mu­ni­ty to inter­vene and show that open data sits side by side with free­dom of infor­ma­tion.

So, I’ve talked about invest­ing to get the data, open­ing up the data. The third thing is that you’ve got to have the skills to ana­lyze the data. And so, some­times we, the data kind of geek com­mu­ni­ty, for­get that what peo­ple want is not data. They want answers. And actu­al­ly, to go from data to answers, you need real­ly good ana­lyt­i­cal, sta­tis­ti­cal skills.

We asked MPs, If you toss a coin twice, what are the chances of get­ting two heads in a row?” And the answer of course is 25%. Only 40% of them could announce that ques­tion cor­rect­ly. Say you know, these are the peo­ple that are hav­ing to make deci­sions at coun­try lev­el on our behalves all the time. And their data skills and not nec­es­sar­i­ly where they should be.

So, off the back of that, we ran a cam­paign in the run up to the elec­tion. We asked our six thou­sand mem­bers to write to their can­di­dates and say, If you get elect­ed, do you promise to take sta­tis­ti­cal train­ing from the Royal Statistical Society?” Three hun­dred can­di­dates said yes. Of them, fifty-five got elect­ed. And only a cou­ple of weeks ago on World Statistics Day (yes, such a thing exists) we held our first train­ing ses­sion for a batch of MPs. And they were delight­ed. Because it wasn’t about telling them this is what you’re doing wrong.” It was say­ing, We need to inoc­u­late you against the lob­by­ists and the kind of bewil­der­ing num­bers that you’re going to come across. Most of you dropped maths at 16. Data is scary for you. Let’s open that up and let’s build you con­fi­dence.”

But it can’t just be about MPs. We’re try­ing to work with the pol­i­cy com­mu­ni­ty. And we’re work­ing right the way through the school of edu­ca­tion sys­tem, and uni­ver­si­ty lev­el as well. Data ana­lyt­ics is the future of our econ­o­my and of soci­ety, and we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the skill base to inform that.

The fourth area we’ve we stressed is to actu­al­ly use the bloody data to inform decision-making. And it’s a scan­dal how lit­tle this hap­pens. Government has made a cou­ple of steps for­ward in this area. I think the What Works Centres, which are actu­al­ly look­ing at bring­ing togeth­er the data that we have in par­tic­u­lar areas and bring­ing them togeth­er with the pol­i­cy­mak­ing com­mu­ni­ty has been a real­ly pos­i­tive step for­ward. But this is in only small areas. So, open doesn’t end with open­ing up the data. The next step is to then shove it in the people’s faces and say, What’re you going to do with it? This is what the evi­dence tells us.”

And final­ly, we need insti­tu­tions to cre­ate trust. Every week in the news now, we have TalkTalk, Ashley Madison, what­ev­er it might be. Now, these are not nec­es­sar­i­ly about open data, but as we already know, our per­son­al data, very impor­tant to us, is actu­al­ly… The scan­dal sur­round­ing some of this, and the con­cerns that peo­ple have around their pri­va­cy, has the abil­i­ty to actu­al­ly bring down the open data agen­da because in most people’s minds, these agen­das are not sep­a­rate.

And so we have to have a robust insti­tu­tion­al frame­work to give peo­ple the con­fi­dence. We did some research about a year and a half ago show­ing what we said was a data trust deficit. If you ask any­body how much they trust any insti­tu­tion, and then how much they trust that insti­tu­tion with their per­son­al data, it’s always low­er. So there is this gap around per­son­al data, which is crit­i­cal. And if we don’t address that lev­el of trust, all of the wider ini­tia­tives that we have will skup­per.

So, that was a very quick ground tour. But if you want to know more, our Data Manifesto is on the RSS web sites. We are cam­paign­ing for a bet­ter soci­ety based on good use of data, and I hope that— If you’re inter­est­ed, we’re open, an open body. You don’t have to be a sta­tis­ti­cian. You just tough to care about data. So, you’d be very wel­come to join us in our cam­paign. And we work very close­ly with the ODI in tak­ing all of this for­ward. Thank you very much.


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