Considering Public Good in Research and Statistics: Ethics Guidance

22 July 2021
Last updated:
6 September 2021

What is public good?

The UK Statistics Authority has a statutory objective of “promoting and safeguarding the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good” and public good is one of the UK Statistics Authority’s six ethical principles. Considering, and clearly stating, the public good benefit of projects is therefore a key aspect of research, analysis and statistics.

Administrative and other public data are often generated as a result of the public engaging with public services. Ensuring public good in the use of such data for research and statistics, including what that might mean, is a key aspect of current work by the Office for Statistics Regulation. This work programme will continue to influence future iterations of this guidance.

The term public good is considered in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and the Research Code of Practice and Accreditation Criteria within the Digital Economy Act 2017.

Within this legislation, public good broadly includes:

  1. Providing an evidence base for public policy decision-making, public service delivery, or other decisions that are likely to significantly benefit the UK economy, society or quality of life of people in the UK, UK nationals or people born in the UK now living abroad.
  2. Replicating, validating, challenging or reviewing existing research and proposed research publications, including official statistics.
  3. Improving the quality, coverage or presentation of existing research, including official or National Statistics.
  4. Significantly extending understanding of social or economic trends or events by improving knowledge or challenging widely accepted analyses. ​

In this way, public good within your project may include influencing specific policy decisions or service delivery, both within the UK and in relation to overseas development activities, creating wider societal benefit across various areas including health, the environment or social care, furthering research or statistics in a particular area, challenging research or statistics that policy has been developed upon, or extending understanding of a particular topic.

This also includes extending the public’s understanding of different issues to enable people to make more informed decisions about the world they live in and to aid the democratic process. Your work may have impact at the regional or national level and may involve or encourage engagement and collaboration with others.

Essentially, public good relates to the benefits of your research and analysis to the public: What impact will your work have on people, communities, organisations, and companies?
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