1. Background

It is good practice, in line with the Code of Practice for official statistics, to ensure that the methods used to produce statistics are the best available and quality is assured through peer review. Therefore, the National Statistician has formed a Methodological Assurance Review Panel to review and provide advice and assurance on methodological matters.

In particular, the panel will focus on some of the significant change programmes where new or revised statistical methods are being introduced or changed, such as the 2023 Recommendation on the future of Population Statistics, the transformation of Household finances and the transformed labour force survey.

Occasionally, ONS carries out deep dive quality reviews as a way of focusing on one area and identifying the risks to quality. The National Statistician may ask the panel to oversee the assurance of these.

These Terms of Reference replace those used previously (2018-2022), which focused on the 2021 Census and 2023 Recommendation on the future of population statistics. The remit of the panel will be reviewed again in 2025.

  1. Purpose of the Review Panel

The purpose of the review panel is to:

  • Provide external, independent assurance and guidance on the statistical methodology underpinning ONS statistical production and research.
  • Identify significant gaps and risks in methods and make suggestions for mitigation.
  • Review the methods being developed for major ONS programmes and contribute to their continuous improvement.
  • Provide oversight of methodological deep dives which ONS may undertake across its portfolio.

The Chair and other panel members should:

  • Be available to attend face-to-face or online review meetings as scheduled, and have preparation time in advance to read papers, compile questions and contribute virtually in between meetings.
  • Be independent of the Office for National Statistics throughout the review.

The ONS SRO for the panel is the Director of Methodology and Quality Directorate. The panel will report to, advise and assure the National Statistician.

  1. Membership

No single person will have the expertise or experience required to conduct the reviews alone.

The panel will consist of the Chair and up to six other members, selected to give appropriate breadth of experience and expertise. If specific expertise is required for a particular review, additional experts may be co-opted, with agreement by the National Statistician, Chair and the SRO, to take part in discussion and meetings.

The Chair is appointed by the National Statistician. The appointment of Panel members will be made, and if needed terminated, by the ONS SRO, normally acting in consultation with the National Statistician and Chair.

  1. Costs

All panel members will be remunerated for their time and reimbursed for their travel and subsistence expenses.

  1. Role Description

The panel member skills and expertise should complement each other to ensure coverage of all the topics within scope.

The core panel (plus additional experts, if needed) will need the following experience and expertise:

  • General statistical methods used in official statistics – sample survey design and estimation, edit and imputation, statistical modelling, statistical disclosure control
  • Demography including Population and socio-demographic estimation
  • Economic statistics, including business survey methods
  • Questionnaire design, data collection and registers
  • Use/analysis of administrative data
  • Record linkage
  • Combining administrative and survey data/small-area multivariate estimation
  • Data Science techniques, including Big Data
  1. Review Scope

The focus of the reviews undertaken each year will change dependent on the various programme phases. The review scope will be agreed between the Chair and the ONS SRO, with the ONS SRO having the final say.

The Panel will be invited to review projects throughout their lifecycle, so that early advice can be provided and incorporated into projects. The Panel will be invited to give feedback on recommended methods, including requests for further work or information, and ONS will accommodate these wherever possible. ONS will then decide on the methods to implement given the feedback received.

The panel will not be expected to check any detailed methodology in terms of formulae or implementation. They will provide advice and assurance on the approach, interpretation of results and whether the evidence presented supports the conclusions or recommendations in each review paper.

  1. Not In Scope

It will be out of scope to review:

  • Detailed ONS operational issues, unless there is a clear tension between these and methodological matters for which ONS require advice.
  • Work undertaken within the stakeholder engagement function other than methods for research on public acceptability
  • Work undertaken on similar programmes in Scotland (NRS) and Northern Ireland (NISRA), but review findings will be shared with colleagues in NRS and NISRA
  1. Organisation / Transparency / Confidentiality

MaRAG – The review panel will be closely aligned to the ONS internal Methods and Research Assurance Group which will be the primary source of papers summarising proposed methods.

Each review will be organised internally by the ONS Methodology and Quality directorate. This will include:

  • Organising an ‘induction’ briefing session for panel members to introduce the programme and provide an overview of the breadth of work the review will cover
  • Setting the agenda for each review meeting, in consultation with the Chair
  • Ensuring appropriate papers are provided by areas responsible for each item on the review agenda
  • Gaining sign off of papers at MaRAG in advance of each review
  • Sending papers to the review panel ahead of the review
  • Taking minutes of the panel discussions
  • Briefing relevant ONS Directors (and the National Statistician if appropriate) on issues raised
  • Monitoring progress on agreed actions from the recommendations made by the review panel
  • All communications regarding the panel, the discussions and methods reviewed, by all involved, must be coordinated with ONS

The review panel will compile a report on an annual basis to reflect their findings, which will then be submitted to the National Statistician and published.

Following each meeting, the panel minutes will be published alongside the papers considered by the panel.

The panel will be bound by a confidentiality undertaking, which they will sign as part of their appointment.