This is a case study for Principle T2: Independent decision making and leadership
To monitor the use of the transport system in Great Britain during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Department for Transport (DfT) rapidly produced new statistics on transport use by mode, from March 2020.
The DfT Head of Profession for Statistics (HoP) and senior statistical leadership team were instrumental in developing the statistics. They led and encouraged collaboration and innovation with organisations outside government to gain access to new data. For example to develop near real-time indicators, the lead for Travel and Safety Statistics worked with a bus technology company to get information about bus use outside of London, and the HoP proactively led discussions with a telecoms provider about the potential application of telecoms data which formed part of the methodology to providing estimates of cycling. The lead for Road Traffic worked with their team to develop a new approach to use existing automated traffic counters.
The production of these statistics involved a coordinated effort across multiple analytical teams, overseen by the HoP and senior leadership team. The HoP put in place a fast but rigorous quality assurance process. Provisional numbers were produced by individual analytical teams and sent to a central team by 3pm each day. The HoP reviewed them, provided feedback as needed and the numbers were then finalised by the individual teams before being signed off by the HoP for inclusion in an updated data dashboard at the end of each day.
The statistics were first presented via slides at a series of press conferences at 10 Downing Street in response to coronavirus. For example, the Transport Secretary presented on the statistics in his statement on coronavirus (COVID-19) on 4 June 2020. The statistics were used to show the change in transport trends across Great Britain and give an indication of compliance with lockdown rules. They proved vital for informing the government, the media and the general public and continued to be valuable as the lockdown rules changed. Statisticians at DfT had continuous close engagement with the Cabinet Office to ensure that the data had been well understood by their policy colleagues.
OSR carried out a rapid review of the statistics, which highlighted that the data was only sometimes included in the daily briefing slides and therefore only available to the public on those days. The DfT HoP then played a key role getting the data published daily each weekday.
The DfT HoP later determined that changes should be made to the frequency and timing of the publication of the statistics, to reflect changes in user demand. This involved weighing up the user need with the resource required to produce the data and the impact on staff and being proactive in anticipating future user interest. As user demand for daily data initially reduced, the decision was made to publish the data weekly on a Wednesday instead. Then later, the HoP determined the timing and frequency of publication should be moved back to daily for a set period, to inform users shortly ahead of schools reopening, before then reverting back to weekly publication when that need again reduced.
This example shows the key roles played by the DfT HoP and wider statistical leadership team in the production of a new and important data source, which has been used for informing the government, the media and the general public during the pandemic. Key aspects of the role the HoP played included encouraging collaboration and innovation with organisations outside government to gain access to an important new data source, ensuring the rigorous quality assurance of new outputs produced to a tight timescale, and determining changes to the frequency and timing of the publication of the statistics as user demand changed, and being proactive in anticipating future user interest, while considering with the resource impact on analytical staff required to produce the data.