Annual Review 2016

Our key achievements from the President of the RSS, Peter Diggle

Peter Diggle As a membership organisation, the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) has the tremendous benefit of being able to draw on the expertise and knowledge of its members to realise our vision to create a world with data at the heart of understanding and decision-making. I would therefore like to begin this message with a heartfelt ‘Thank you’ to our 8,000 members, and ask you to encourage anybody with an interest in data and evidence to join us to become a member. It will give us even more strength to continue the important work we have been doing throughout our long history.

We have had a busy 2016, and this document sets out just a few highlights of the wide range of activities which have strengthened the voice of our thriving community. As a charity, we advocate the key role of statistics and data in society, and we work to ensure that policy formulation and decision-making are informed by evidence for the public good. As we’re in the third year of our five-year strategic plan we have been making good progress implementing the associated goals outlined below.

Education is one of the key themes underpinning most of our work, both in the UK and abroad. I’ve been particularly pleased with our engagement with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, and the success of our funding campaign to enable RSS fellows to teach statistics in Africa. I’m also pleased that we have now set up a new Discussion Meeting Committee to drive a wider range of Discussion Meetings (formerly ‘Ordinary Meetings’) that will continue our tradition of frank and open debate, and will range across the mathematical underpinnings of our discipline, its intersection with the natural and social sciences, and its relevance to policy-setting.

Of course these are just two examples, and I would encourage you to read the more comprehensive round-up below.

I hope that you will continue to engage with our agenda, and help us to continue to have the impact we have in the wider world. Your support is absolutely vital - thank you for your interest in the RSS.

Peter J Diggle,

See our Annual Review leaflet (PDF).

Goal one: For statistics to be used effectively in the public interest, so that policy formulation and decision making are informed by evidence for the good of society.

  1. Advising the government on communicating risk to the public. 
    Our President Professor Peter Diggle and President elect Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter wrote to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt regarding newly drafted alcohol consumption guidelines. They stressed that there was ‘consistent downplaying and even denial of benefits’ in the communication of the new guidelines. This led to further correspondence with UK Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies and widespread media coverage in the BBC, the Daily Mail and others as well making the front page of The Times.
  2. Championing data sharing within government
    We have worked extensively with politicians and key stakeholders on new data sharing legislation which was introduced in Parliament. We gave both oral and written evidence to MPs, making the case for the statistics and research provisions of the Bill, which will strengthen the UK’s data infrastructure by addressing data gaps, leading to better policy for the good of society.
  3. Promoting data ethics.
    Building on last year’s efforts we have continued to engage with a number of key stakeholders on the need to establish a Data Ethics Council to consider the fast changing context of the rise of digital data, machine learning and algorithmic decision-making. We have hosted and attended a number of events to raise the issue of data ethics in the context of the balance between public acceptability and societal benefits of the use of personal data.
  4. Engaging with government and parliament.
    We continue to engage with a wide range of government consultations and have been quoted several times in parliamentary debates and reports. We met with Cabinet Office Minister Ben Gummer to discuss our Data Manifesto and the need for greater data sharing within government, and the importance of statistics and data in policy making. Throughout the year we have met with MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum, including Lord David Willetts, and Shadow Ministers Chi Onwurah MP and Louise Haigh MP, leading to our concerns being raised in parliamentary debates.

Goal two: For society to be more statistically literate, so that people’s understanding of data, risk and probability can inform their decision making, leading to better outcomes.

  1. Statistical literacy and politicians
    We have continued our work with politicians as part of our Parliament Counts campaign. We have raised awareness about the importance of statistical literacy by providing statistics workshops to MPs and their staff to help them understand the numbers underlying public policy and decision making. We held a second session for MPs in January of this year and we have continued the campaign at a devolved level, holding a statistics workshop for the Welsh Assembly in September.
  2. Developing our Statistical Ambassadors
    We appointed 10 new Statistical Ambassadors this year, and gave them training in how to communicate statistics to the media and public. Our 21 ambassadors have made numerous media appearances and have worked to help journalists behind the scenes including for a Channel 4’s Dispatches programme. They have also presented at various public events, enthusing the public in everything statistical.
  3. Statistics and the Curriculum
    We continue to play a key role in strengthening the position of statistics content in the curriculum. We successfully campaigned to get the Department for Education to accept an improved version of A-level Statistics in England and we are continuing to work with exam boards to ensure it remains part of student’s learning. We held an event in July on statistics across a wide range of subjects stressing the importance of continued embedding of statistical education.
  4. Statistical Excellence Awards
    Each year we recognise the good work of the media, those working with official statistics and those in the pharmaceutical industry for using statistics to explain key issues, and for innovative practice and presentation of statistics. We had a varied field of entries for the three awards, and a well-attended awards ceremony at Errol Street in July.

Goal three: For a strong body of professional statisticians to maintain and develop the skills they need so that they can critically apply methodology, interpret results and communicate findings.

  1. Expanding our professional training
    Our reputation as a respected training provider has contributed to a significant growth in our training offering throughout 2016. Up to the end of October, we have run 24 public courses (compared to 13 in 2015), 5 of which were outside of London. 332 people have attended our public courses so far this year – up 66 percent against 2015. We have also extended our geographical reach: more overseas attendees come to our public courses; we have delivered in-company training in Scotland, the Netherlands and the USA; and we have begun to deliver online training, starting with our very popular Presenting Data course,
  2. A new course accreditation scheme
    Following our strategy review for this area of work, we have developed a new model for accrediting courses at various levels of the formal qualifications framework. The new standards at Levels 6 and 7 of the qualifications framework will also replace the RSS Graduate Diploma as the academic benchmark for our professional accreditation (Chartered and Graduate Statistician). These new benchmarks will allow us to develop stronger partnerships with statistical education providers and awarding bodies.
  3. Growing our Graduate Statistician qualification
    Having already beaten our previous record with 139 new Graduate Statistician (GradStat) awards made in 2015 (an increase of 15 per cent on 2013), we have once again beaten the new record with 146 GradStat awards made in 2016.
  4. Honours and awards
    Each year we award medals and prizes to people who have made outstanding contributions to the development of statistics. The inaugural International Prize in Statistics in partnership with other leading statistical associations was awarded to Professor Sir David Cox for the Cox Proportional Hazards Model. The ceremony for the 2016 RSS awards was held at our international conference in Manchester. The Guy Medal in Gold was awarded to Sir Adrian Smith, the Guy Medal in Silver to Nancy Reid and the Barnett Award to Noel Cressie. Honorary Fellowships were awarded to Sir Tony Atkinson, Sir Michael Marmot and John Goldthorpe.

Goal four: For statistics as a discipline to thrive, so that methodology is advanced, applied and made accessible, leading to greater understanding of an increasingly complex world.

  1. Journals
    Our journals continue to perform well in pushing forward the discipline. Although we take them with a pinch of salt, our Impact Factor rankings are also good, with Series A, Statistics in Society once again increasing its citation rate and Series B, Statistical Methodology ranking
  2. Webinar Programme
    Our webinar programme continues to flourish, with the Journal webinars steadily increasing in popularity since their introduction in 2013. The number of attendees has grown from around 80 in 2013 to 256 in 2016, and feedback from participants has been very positive. The webinar in July was jointly held with the PSI and attracted 180 people. The Professional Statisticians Forum with its constantly updated programme of webinars continues to attract high profile speakers, including John Pullinger, whose session in January attracted over 70 participants.
  3. Annual Conference
    Our annual international conference continues to grow in influence and reach, strengthening its reputation as one of the best forums for networking and learning. This year’s conference in Manchester attracted over 500 attendees and a record number of contributed submissions were received. This resulted in a strong growth in income and the conference also received continued positive feedback from attendees. We were also pleased to collaborate with the Government Statistical Service whose conference took place alongside the final day of RSS Conference
  4. Events, Sections & Groups
    We have held a number of public events this year on key policy and statistical issues, often together with stakeholders including the Royal Society, the Institute for Government, the Royal Economic Society and The Institute for Fiscal Studies. Our sections and local groups have increased their activity in 2016, holding over 80 meetings – which regularly attract large audiences.

Goal five: For an engaged and energised membership and staff to work collaboratively with partner organisations and other stakeholders in meeting these goals, so that the Society can maximise its impact.

  1. Statistics in Africa Campaign
    This year we launched the Statistics in Africa fundraising campaign to help enhance and expand statistical education in Africa. We started the campaign to help us fund RSS fellows to travel to Africa to teach at the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS). We have had a great response from our members, with our fundraising target being met.
  2. RSS communications
    We continue to extend our outreach to our membership through our newsletters and on social media. Our two websites, and uk were visited by over 440,000 users, an increase of almost 14 percent compared to 2015. We currently have just under 12,000 Twitter followers and our tweets have gained an average of 7,500 impressions. We have nearly 8,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook and our average daily Facebook ‘reach’ is 1,800 people. On LinkedIn we have 1,300 followers to whom we post regular updates on the Society’s activities.
  3. Membership referrals campaign
    We asked members to help us grow the membership by launching a new (and ongoing) ‘Member Referrals’ campaign, whereby members can be rewarded for referring friends and colleagues for membership. We believe our members and the community they’ve created are our best assets, and a growing RSS means a greater strengthening of our statistical community, promotion of the discipline across the world and better networking opportunities.
  4. e-Teacher & e-Student Membership
    We have continued to grow our e-Student membership category, and now have a community  of over 2,000 e-Student members (up from 1,200 i 2015), whom we aim to support throughout thei  statistical careers. Our e-teacher membership also continues to grow with a community of just under 500 teachers.
  5. Corporate Membership Partners
    We have grown our list of corporate membership partners through the recent addition of the Office for National Statistics and UK Statistics Authority. This mutually beneficial partnership helps to grow the RSS membership while giving employees of the ONS and UKSA discounts on the membership fees and training, as well as access to tailored events such as talks and meetings.

Goal six: For the RSS to be a financially sustainable and well run organisation with effective governance and use of technology, so that it will grow in relevance, exert influence and have wider impact.

  1. Growing our income streams
    We have been working hard to grow our diverse income streams in order to cross-subsidise membership fees. Two thirds of our income comes from sources other than membership fees and in 2016 we have had particular success in achieving our growth targets for training courses. We also completed a full tender process this year for the publishing contract for our journals and magazine, and the new contract has been awarded to Wiley. Although not the only consideration in assessing the tenders, the outcome was an improved financial offer with a substantially higher guaranteed annual payment over the duration of the contract.
  2. Improving digital access
    We continue to make more of our services available in digital formats. Four new apps were launched this year for each of the Society’s three journal series and Significance magazine, offering an entirely new browsing and reading experience. Members and subscribers now have convenient access to articles, an enhanced search facility, immediate access to new content, and the ability to download issues to read offline, among other benefits.
  3. Increased e-access to our events
    In our efforts to engage with our international audience and broadcast our message to a wider group of stakeholders, we have uploaded more videos this year than ever before of our events, lectures and conferences – an increase of over 60 percent on 2015 (101 videos in 2016, compared to 62 in 2015), gaining another 700 new subscribers to our YouTube channel and increasing the number of views received by 13 percent.

Future Plans

Our 2017 activity plan is building on the successes we’ve achieved in 2016. Under our new President, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, we will continue to increase efforts to raise the public understanding of statistics. We will deliver even more high-quality training courses, and will further develop our annual conference which will take place in Glasgow. We will continue to foster our increasingly active sections to broaden the appeal of the RSS to new audiences, including through a new data science section.

See our Annual review 2016 leaflet (PDF)
See our Key Achievements leaflet from 2015 (PDF).
See our Annual review 2015 leaflet (PDF)