This article summarises the user engagement plans for the UK Environmental Accounts, UK Household Satellite Accounts and UK Human Capital Accounts, as well as other outputs of the National Accounts Extensions project of the Measuring National Well-being programme. The project has a four year development programme for which engagement with users and experts, both in the UK and internationally, will be critical to delivering trusted and relevant statistics in areas such as ecosystem accounts and volunteering.
The UK Environmental Accounts have been published by ONS on a regular basis since 2003. Since early 2011, recognising the role the accounts could play in underpinning measures on the environment and sustainability, the UK Environmental Accounts have been encompassed within the Measuring National Well-being programme, as part of the National Accounts Extensions project
This aim of this article is to outline the user engagement strategy for the UK Environmental Accounts together with other outputs of the project, including the UK Household Satellite Accounts and UK Human Capital Accounts.
In developing measures of national well-being, the wide range of user engagement activities being undertaken is well known, not least the National Debate which ran earlier this year. The results of these activities inform all aspects of the programme, including the environmental, human capital and household accounts. However, the focus of this article is the user engagement strategy specific to these accounts and related development plans.
The paper begins by explaining more about the National Accounts Extensions project and its outputs, before outlining the findings of the UK Statistics Authority’s assessment of the UK Environmental Accounts with respect to user engagement. The paper then outlines plans to strengthen user engagement for these outputs, setting these plans within the context of the ONS user engagement strategy. Finally, plans are outlined for documenting users’ experiences and for regularly reviewing the success of engagement with users.
On 25 November 2010, the National Statistician accepted an invitation from the Prime Minister to develop measures of national well-being and progress. As a first step, ONS undertook a National Debate on ‘what matters to you?’, helping to identify the key areas that matter most to people.
A report of the National Statistician’s reflections on the National Debate was published in July 2011 and an ONS work programme has been established to deliver measures of national well-being. The understanding offered by the debate will help ONS ensure that these measures are relevant not only to government but to the wider public.
The aim is that these new measures will cover the quality of life of people in the UK, environmental and sustainability issues, as well as the economic performance of the country.
The National Accounts Extensions project of the Measuring National Well-being Programme focuses on the development of statistics to underpin measures of economic well-being, sustainability and the environment.
The UK National Accounts is the starting point for measuring the UK’s economic well-being, providing a rich source of information on economic performance, including economic growth as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, economists and statisticians have always acknowledged that GDP does not capture everything that determines a society’s economic well-being, and it was not designed to do so. The National Accounts Extensions project is examining how measures of economic well-being can be extended, for example:
To better capture the well-being provided by the goods and services households produce for themselves. The value of home production is not recorded in GDP.
To say something about the distribution of income across society at a point in time and over time, emphasising issues of fairness and equality.
To present measures of wealth, including financial wealth, since wealth and not just income (as represented by GDP) is a key determinant of well-being.
One key output of the project in relation to these aims is the UK Household Satellite Account.
Determinants of a nation’s future well-being are also not adequately represented by existing economic statistics. Sustainable development is about ensuring people can satisfy their basic needs now while making sure future generations can also look forward to the same quality of life. The Commission for the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (CMEPSP, 2009) recommended that sustainability assessment requires separate measurement with measures interpretable as variations of the key 'stocks' that underpin human well-being.
The National Debate highlighted that the present and future conditions of the environment matter to people and, related to this, ONS is working towards a commitment in the Natural Environment White Paper published on 7 June 2011 to 'fully include natural capital in the UK Environmental Accounts'.
The National Accounts Extensions project is examining measures of economic, human, social and natural capital and the UK Environmental Accounts and UK Human Capital Accounts are key outputs in this respect.
In June 2011, the UK Statistics Authority published their assessment of the compliance of the UK Environmental Accounts with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. The report concluded that the UK Environmental Accounts are designated as National Statistics, subject to ONS implementing seven requirements by December 2011, one of which was to:
‘Publish plans to strengthen engagement with users and to document users’ experiences of the Environmental Accounts’
UK Statistics Authority, June 2011.
In assessing the UK Environmental Accounts against Principle 1 of the Code of Practice - meeting user needs – the Authority recognised a range of positive steps had been taken by ONS but pointed to the need to establish regular and formal engagement with the users of these statistics.
Also, whilst ONS have documented potential uses of environmental accounts, there is currently no presentation of users’ experiences of the UK Environmental Accounts.
Other outputs of the project, such as the UK Human Capital Accounts, have not yet been assessed by the Authority as they are in the early stages of their development, but in thinking about user engagement, because of the strong links between the outputs and their users, it has been helpful to apply the lessons learned from the assessment more widely than the environmental accounts.
The recently published ONS User Engagement Strategy provides a strong framework for considering our approach to working with users.
The ONS recognises that delivering the ONS vision ‘ONS – where people come first for trusted statistics’ can only be achieved by working with and through other people and organisations. The strategy is focused on users and sets out how ONS will promote user engagement.
ONS users are defined as ‘individuals or groups who use, or could use our statistics’ and customers are users who we know and are in regular contact with. The aim is:
to turn users into customers, and customers into ambassadors,
to broaden our engagement with users.
The ONS strategy outlines five key approaches to user engagement:
communicate – inform or educate stakeholders,
consultation – gain information and feedback from stakeholders to inform decisions,
dialogue – work directly with stakeholders to ensure their concerns are fully understood and considered in decision making,
partnerships – partner with or convene a network of stakeholders to develop mutually agreed solutions and actions,
monitor – monitor stakeholders’ views.
Taking into account the context offered by the Measuring National Well-being programme, the Authority Assessment of the UK Environmental Accounts and the ONS User Engagement Strategy, the plans for strengthening user engagement, which have already started to be implemented, are presented within the context of the five approaches – communicate, consultation, dialogue, partnerships and monitor.
The project has been developing lists of users and stakeholders so that we can develop a clearer understanding of who our users are, what their experiences of our outputs are, and how our outputs are used. More is said on this later but as a minimum, maintaining such lists means that any outputs and events will now be flagged to those with a known interest, using e-mail to provide direct links to new publications and invitations to future events. Sources for these distribution lists include:
records of users who have contacted ONS in relation to specific outputs, for example, UK Environmental Accounts,
membership of the National Well-being Advisory Forum and Technical Advisory Group,
attendees at previous ONS seminars, for example, launch of Human Capital estimates,
contacts made through the National Debate,
Media Relations contacts on the related topics, for example, environment, economy,
contacts made through networking events, for example, conferences,
research on experts, academics, researchers operating in related fields, for example, a research study on experts on natural capital and ecosystems has recently been completed.
A communications plan is now developed for every publication for review by an internal monthly Stakeholder and Communications Committee. The Committee challenges, and works in support of, the output owner to develop plans for optimising the communication of each output to help our range of users get to the heart of the statistics and what they tell us. The plans may include events, short stories, use of social media to invite a dialogue, and so on. Plans may also include the publication of News Releases to complement the main publication. An example is the News Release issued with the UK Environmental Accounts on 29 June 2011 (118.1 Kb Pdf) .
As part of every communication plan, the output owner must also specify how the success of any communications will be measured.
The main route for accessing our statistics is the ONS website. A range of improvements have been made this year, and work will continue to make our outputs as easy as possible for users to access and exploit. Recent developments include the streamlining of content for the UK Environmental Accounts so that all outputs, methodology and quality information is accessible from a single page.
We have also been working to improve the metadata and contact information for outputs to make it easier for users to find what they are looking for and to follow up with us.
Further work will be carried out in the coming months to improve the links between the National Well-being content and specific outputs of the programme including the UK Environmental Accounts.
The project will continue to seek out relevant opportunities to present to professional conferences. In 2010, we presented work on Human Capital at the Government Economic Service conference at the University of Warwick. We also presented the work at the International Review of Income and Wealth conference in St Gallen. In 2011, we sent a representative to a networking event on Environmental Sustainability hosted by the Wales institute of Social & Economic Research (WISERD). We have submitted a proposal for a special session of the Royal Economic Society conference in March 2012 and are waiting for the outcome.
As well as communicating our development programme, this offers the opportunity to develop wider networks and learn from others working in the same field. For example, the report made by our participant at the WISERD event has been used to inform the membership of our expert engagement group on natural capital and ecosystem accounts.
The project is increasingly hosting seminars and workshops to engage with users. Examples include:
Human Capital Seminar – December 2010,
Time Use Surveys – 4 November 2011,
Worker Well-being Cardiff University – 30 November 2011,
UK Environmental Accounts and Natural Capital – 8 December 2011,
Human, Social and Natural Capital – February 2012 (date to be confirmed),
Household and Labour Market Seminar – February 2012 (date to be confirmed).
A range of users are invited to these events from policy, academic, media, business and non-government organisations. They take the form of a presentation and discussion session. For example, the UK Environmental Accounts seminar on 8 December will be a 2 hour event with over half of this time dedicated to a discussion of the applications and challenges of environmental-economic accounts and of ecosystem accounts. This information will be recorded, fed back to the expert engagement group, and used to inform the roadmap we are developing in 2012.
The project also seeks to present, either in the lead or as part of wider related presentations, at similar events hosted by others:
Economic Statistics Theme Group – 4 April 2011, 13 December 2011
ONS operate open consultations with users of our statistics. This is a good mechanism for seeking feedback on specific proposals. On 31 October 2011, a 3 month public consultation was launched on ‘proposals for domains and headline measures of national well-being’. These proposals include the domains ‘the economy’ and ‘the natural environment’. Feedback on proposals relating to these domains in particular will influence the priorities of the National Accounts Extensions project. Noting the significance to our users of this consultation, it has been advertised on the UK Environmental Accounts pages of the ONS website, will be communicated as part of the UK Environmental Accounts publication on 30 November and will be included in the seminar presentation on 8 December.
As well as consulting on-line through the ONS website, this consultation will be supported by a range of targeted face-to-face engagement activities.
A public consultation is also planned for 2012 on the Roadmap for including natural capital in the UK Environmental Accounts and plans will be put in place to ensure this consultation reaches users effectively. The results of the consultation will be published and used to inform the final version of the Roadmap.
Government departments tend to be some of the major and most regular users of statistics. It is therefore important we consult regularly with departments to understand and learn from user experiences and inform out future plans.
For the UK Environmental Accounts, to date, a lot of consultation has been managed by e-mail correspondence with organisations such as Defra, DECC, Forestry Commission and the devolved governments. Bilateral meetings were also previously held on an informal ad hoc basis. Whilst there is still a role for this type of dialogue, we have now started more regular monthly bilateral meetings with Defra and agreed with DECC to have a regular annual meeting, as we do with Department for Transport.
However, we have agreed with Defra to examine other options in early 2012. One proposal from users is to have a cross-departmental user group. This could also potentially be extended to other users and partner organisations. More engagement is needed to agree on the best format and arrangements will be formalised in the first quarter of the year.
The National Well-being programme is making increasing use of social media to reach a wider audience and we have started to examine how we can do this for our outputs.
There is a Twitter account which users can sign up to follow, Twitter #UKWellbeing. We are increasingly using Twitter to flag publications for users, including the UK Environmental Accounts:
Additionally, we have started to develop podcasts to communicate statistics in a non-technical way to a wider audience. These are made available via the ONS YouTube channel. An example of this explains the implications of different measures of national income for national well-being.
As well as facilitating communication of our outputs in an easily accessible method and language, social media allows us to have an immediate dialogue with our users as they can respond to what they have seen and we can respond to them.
The Measuring National Well-being programme convenes regular meetings of the Advisory Forum to provide advice to the National Statistician on credible measures of national well-being to meet policy and public needs, which ultimately informs the outputs we produce.
ONS manages dialogue with users in government departments through regular Key Account meetings. For the National Accounts, for example, there is a regular meeting with the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, HM Treasury, Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Bank of England. We have identified these departments as users with whom we need to improve our dialogue. We have therefore agreed plans to engage with this group and the Economic Statistics Theme Group meeting to establish the relevant contacts for our outputs. One idea we are pursuing is to initiate dialogue by offering a presentation to these groups to share our work on economic well-being, sustainability and the environment.
The Measuring National Well-being programme convenes regular meetings of a technical advisory group. This group looks at more specialist issues than the advisory forum and offers the opportunity for the National Accounts Extensions project to engage with experts for technical input, advice and quality assurance on an issue by issue basis. Recent examples include initiating a meeting of experts from the group to explore the potential for using Time-Use Surveys in measuring national well-being.
The National Accounts Extensions project is formally managed within the governance of the Measuring National Well-being programme. Recognising the strong links with Defra in delivering the environmental sustainability work stream, we have two representatives on the project board.
In October, the project issued over 50 invitations to a range of users and experts to join an ONS Engagement Group on Natural Capital and Ecosystem Accounts. There has been very positive feedback to this initiative with those contacted already offering to run workshops, share sources and contacts.
The group is primarily being operated as an eforum supported by a core group of representatives who will meet on a regular basis. ONS will work with this group to develop the UK Environmental Accounts to deliver on the objectives of the Measuring National Wellbeing programme and Natural Environmental White Paper. The draft terms of reference for the group have been published in draft form on the eforum for but the aim of the group is to ensure the user requirement is fully understood and then to work with experts to build accounts based on the excellent work already carried out in the UK in this field by other government departments, academics and non-government organizations.
The technology being employed at present means that the group can involve up to 80 partners but this will be kept under continuous review, with the aim of moving to a forum which will allow complete open access. This is being treated as a pilot for 3 months.
In addition to this expert group, the project manager is a member of the Social Impacts Taskforce, a cross government group of analysts working to update HM Treasury’s Green Book by incorporating a wider range of social impacts into policy evaluation and appraisal.
The project is very active internationally, working with international organisations and other national statistics institutes to contribute to developments in international standards. ONS considers the investment in international developments critical to achieving comparable statistics based on international standards.
Eurostat Environmental Accounts Working Group,
Eurostat Environmental Transfers Task Force,
Eurostat Energy Accounts Task Force,
OECD Working Group on the Measurement of Human Capital,
UN System of Environmental Economic Accounts (SEEA) Expert London Group,
UN SEEA-Energy Expert Group.
On 5-7 December 2011 ONS and Defra, in collaboration with the UN, World Bank and European Environment Agency will jointly host a meeting of 40 international experts from the statistical, scientific and economic communities with a view to exploring the key issues developing SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounts.
The National Well-being Programme has a dedicated team which monitors and records all responses to user engagement, whether this is from on-line surveys, social media, media coverage or the wide range of face-to-face activities, exemplified by the National Debate. This informs the programme in two key ways – identifying the users and potential users of the statistics and informing the development of these statistics. Reports are published feeding back this information and how it has been used.
The programme has a Communications and Engagement workstream dedicated to ensuring all aspects of the programme:
capture and analyse information gathered through user engagement,
build links with stakeholders,
support dialogue with users, in particular from a policy and international perspective,
encourage partnership working with other organisations.
The National Accounts Extensions project manager is on the Committee steering this activity.
For the UK Environmental Accounts, we will run a survey of users’ experiences linked to the June 2012 publication and publish the results of the survey on the ONS website, together with any response to the findings. The scheduling of this survey is to allow time to build a better picture of the potential users of the output though the activities previously described and to design an effective survey to reach these and other users.
Additionally, for the UK Environmental Accounts, we have now started to build and maintain a log of users experiences’ informed by the range of user engagement activity. This log will register the issues raised by users and how the issues will be addressed. If it is not possible to address an issue immediately, the reasons will be clearly recorded for future review.
When the UK Environmental Accounts were published in June 2011, Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) highlighted that the Energy Bridging Table, which illustrates how Energy Accounts and Energy Statistics reconcile, does not make bridge to the headline Energy Balances. We have met with DECC and our suppliers and have agreed a programme of development for early 2012 to investigate improvements ahead of the next publication.
As part of the UKSA assessment of the UK Environmental Accounts, users asked that ONS improve the timeliness of the publication of the Material Flow Accounts. Resource limitations mean we have not yet been in a position to review this but it has been recorded and will be investigated as part of the compilation of the accounts in 2012.
Users have requested improved methodology documentation to be published in support of the air emissions accounts. New documentation has been drafted for both the air emissions accounts and energy accounts. These will be made available as soon as they are finalised (expected December 2011) and further work has been scheduled with suppliers to add a quality assessment in the next version.
The aim is that through this user engagement strategy, ONS will have a better understanding of users’ experiences of our outputs, including the UK Environmental Accounts, and how well our outputs meet user needs. This improved understanding will be used to inform how we develop these outputs and supporting activities to continuously improve the user experience.
We will produce an annual report for the National Accounts Extensions Project Board reviewing all user engagement activity for all outputs, what the outcomes of this activity has been and proposing plans for the following year. This report will include:
a review of the recorded user experiences of our outputs,
a record of how the results of all user engagement have been used to develop the statistics,
performance measures - for example, numbers of responses to consultations, user surveys, number of people attending seminars.
The timing of the first report will be Spring/Summer 2012. In subsequent years, the report will be prepared as part of the regular annual review of the project outcomes. A summary of this report will be made available on the ONS website each year, in a way which makes it accessible to the users of the key outputs of the project.
The National Accounts Extensions project is engaged in an exciting programme of development, with a lot of new ground to be broken. In strengthening our existing outputs and developing new products, we recognise the importance of working with users to ensure what we deliver has clear relevance. We also understand that ONS will not deliver this programme by working in isolation. We are seeking to engage with experts from the UK and internationally, including economists, scientists, statisticians and policy specialists to build on existing best practice and move forward.
If you would like to be involved in any of the user engagement activities outlined in this paper or if you would like to initiate contact with ONS on any of the topics covered by the National Accounts Extensions project, please get in touch. Your involvement is greatly appreciated.
Dr. Richard Jones
Tel: +44 (0)1633 456374
Tel: +44 (0)1633 456239
Tel: +44 (0)1633 455814
Tel: +44 (0)1633 456278
Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: firstname.lastname@example.org
These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.
ONS (July 2011), National Statistician’s Reflections on the National Debate on Measuring National Well-being
Fender, V., Haynes, J., Jones, R. (2011), Measuring Economic Well-being, supplementary paper to National Statistician’s Reflections on the National Debate on Measuring National Well-being
Natural Environment White Paper
UK Statistics Authority (June 2011), Assessment of compliance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics – Environmental Accounts http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/assessment/assessment-reports/assessment-report-118---environmental-accounts.pdf
Open Consultation - Proposed Domains and Headline Indicators for Measuring National Well-being