The secure and effective management of pre-release access

This is a case study for Principle T3: Orderly release.

The Welsh Government makes excellent use of its corporate electronic records management software (Objective ECM) to manage pre-release access across the organisation. The system allows secure groups to be set up which means documents can be shared with only specific individuals.

For each output, a group is set up that is bespoke to the specific pre-release access list. Links to those documents are then sent around under pre-release access rules which means that final versions of releases are never attached to emails as unsecure documents. This is done with clear guidance that no indication of the substance of the statistical release are included in the email text.

This has a number of benefits:

  • If a name is accidentally included on an email distribution list, or it is forwarded to someone else, they cannot actually open the document
  • Pre-release access arrangements can be managed centrally
  • The Objective ECM system has full audit functionality, which allows statisticians to identify who has opened the release (and when). This ensures that they know who has accessed the statistics pre-release, but also allows them to assess whether pre-release access is actually needed in future
  • It provides a safe space for press notices and lines to take to be developed under the same secure conditions as the statistical release
  • It provides a facility for secure external sharing of official-sensitive material through a linked product Connect, in the event that there are pre-release access recipients in outside organisations
  • It ensures that outputs and associated correspondence are automatically part of corporate record
  • Functionality can provide built-in sign-off of documents to support quality assurance and internal clearance processes

Since the introduction of this approach Welsh Government report that the number of accidental or near-miss pre-release sharing occurrences has reduced to virtually zero.

This example shows how Welsh Government has developed an effective system to manage the circulation of statistics in their final form, in line with its obligations under pre-release access legislation. The system also securely supports Welsh Government’s quality assurance and press-notice development processes, and supports statisticians in reviewing whether listed individuals should require continued access in future, which helps to keep the number of individuals granted pre-release access to a minimum.

Being transparent about user engagement and quality management approaches

This is a case study for Principle T4: Transparent processes and management.

The Welsh Government produces all official statistics on housing for Wales and engages with a wide range of users and stakeholders on these statistics.

In 2013, statisticians in the Welsh Government refreshed and relaunched an existing user group as the Housing Information Group (HIG). The HIG meets three times a year (two themed meetings and one seminar) and acts as a forum for the Welsh Government, local authorities, housing associations, participating agencies, and the academic housing research community to share views about housing.

The HIG meetings are used to inform stakeholders and users about ongoing developments in policy, data collection and statistics and to discuss future developments to housing statistics. The Welsh Government publishes the agenda, minutes and actions from each meeting on its website.

Discussions at the HIG have influenced decisions about the scope and content of a new Housing Conditions Survey and the direction of work on the Housing Stock Analytical Resource for Wales. They also influenced the direction of work to investigate the feasibility of collecting individual statutory homelessness data.

This demonstrates that the Welsh Government is transparent about its public engagement with users, potential users and stakeholders.

The Welsh Government also publishes a Statistical Quality Management Strategy, which is a helpful document that demonstrates that it is open about its commitment to quality and quality management.

The strategy reflects relevant Code Pillars, Principles and Practices and includes general information about the quality of Welsh Government statistics and the users of its statistics. It describes the Welsh Government’s four Statistical Quality Objectives (quality assurance training, questioning data, publishing quality reports, and reviewing processes and outputs). The strategy explains how it implements the four objectives, contains links to example quality reports, and provides guidance for analysts on checking and validating data.

Adopting a transparent and consistent approach to user engagement and quality management helps the Welsh Government to demonstrate to its users that they can have confidence in its statistical services and products.

The Head of Profession’s role in assessing continued compliance with the Code

This is a case study for Principle T2: Independent decision making and leadership.

In July 2016, the Welsh Government’s Head of Profession for Statistics wrote to the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) to request that the National Statistics designation of its Homelessness Statistics in Wales be temporarily suspended, as some local authorities faced difficulty in providing complete and accurate data following changes to the legislation that impacted the data collection.

Statisticians in the Welsh Government engaged extensively with local authorities to improve data collection practices and strengthen the quality assurance of the data used to produce these statistics. This involved issuing new guidance, holding workshops with local authorities to discuss difficulties in data collections and clarifying definitions and carrying out detailed reviews of individual data collection forms.

Welsh Government’s Head of Profession for Statistics wrote to OSR again around a year later. He set out the actions taken by the statisticians to ensure the quality of data recorded by local authorities and requested an end to the temporary suspension, which resulted in the National Statistics status being restored.

In June 2018, the Ministry and Housing and Local Government’s (MHCLG) Head of Profession for Statistics wrote to OSR outlining planned changes to MHCLG’s statutory homelessness statistics, following the introduction of the 2018 Homelessness Reduction Act.

The Head of Profession highlighted that the change would result in a break in the statistical series, as future homelessness data was being collected on a different basis by English local authorities going forwards. She noted that as similar legislative changes in Scotland and Wales had initially had a negative impact on data quality, new MHCLG homelessness statistics would be published as experimental statistics from the end of 2018, until MHCLG was sufficiently assured about the quality of the new data. The Head of Profession also set out plans to test the new experimental statistics by engaging with users of homelessness statistics to obtain their feedback.

These examples highlight the central role of the Head of Profession for Statistics in assessing continued compliance with the Code and determining the need for statistical developments to reflect changing legislative context and users’ needs. As required by the Code, they also highlight the Head of Profession’s role in reporting concerns they may have about continuing to meet the standards of the Code to the Director General for Regulation.