How an aspiring journalist became head of the Office for Statistics Regulation: ADR UK Conference 2023

Ed studied at the University of Edinburgh, undertaking a degree in Politics and Economic History.  He was certain this path would lead him to a career in journalism.

However, in his final year at university, he started to realise that he was perhaps not cut out to be a journalist. Spurred on by his ambition to have an impact on the world of policy, he spent the next 20 years working for the National Audit Office, which included three years of training to become a chartered accountant. Although Ed found this far harder than his university degree, and certainly not what he had signed up for, he persevered. This led him to fascinating work on how the UK Government privatised big assets - British Rail, nuclear power stations; how the government contracted for the construction of hospitals and prisons; and the way in which the government regulated energy, water and telecommunications.

He became the equivalent of a Director General in 2007, just as the global financial crisis hit. The UK Government had to provide an unprecedented amount of funds in bailouts and put in place various funding schemes to support the banking system. Ed needed to consider value for money when reporting this to Parliament.

Ed then found “his calling” in his next role at the UK Statistics Authority. He is passionate about his role as the lead watchdog for official statistics in the UK. He is a champion of official statistics, challenges the misuse of official statistics, drives improvements in data production at the Office for National Statistics and all government departments.

Ed’s personal career highlight is updating the Code of Practice for Statistics, which sets the standards that producers of official statistics should commit to. The UK Statistics Authority transformed the existing code to make it more aspirational, providing a comprehensive understanding of why we should have statistics which serve the public good. This document has, he thinks, stood the test of time – although this autumn the Office for Statistics Regulation will be considering whether any elements of the Code should be updated.

Ed is looking forward to being one of the four keynote speakers at the ADR UK Conference 2023.


Callum: You’re presenting at the ADR UK Conference 2023 on the theme of ‘Public engagement and involvement in population data research’. Why do you feel this an important subject to highlight?

Ed:  Firstly, I think ADR UK has done a fantastic job to support researcher access to administrative data. It’s a really tremendous endeavour, and I think if you get excited about the power of statistics and data, you should also be excited by the power of research using administrative data. That’s why I’m really happy to be at the ADR UK Conference 2023, because it’s endorsing that amazing progress. 

Secondly, for my keynote presentation, it’s important to highlight the practical reasons why this question of engagement and public involvement matters. We should dispel our potential fear of engagement, and understand why public engagement is a really important part of administrative data work.

Callum: Is there an aspect to this conference – or any conference for that matter – that you particularly enjoy the most?

Ed:  A conference always offers you something unique. You can find many other ways to hear about specific stories and case studies. You can find other ways to network, and to cultivate and accumulate knowledge. But only at a conference (such as this one) can you do all of those things under one roof, in a concentrated burst. It’s like a package that unites all of those aspects, to make it feel special.

Callum enjoyed interviewing Ed as he shared his passion and enthusiasm for his current role. Beyond work, they covered everything cricket, with Ed’s ideal Saturday consisting of going for a run, watching cricket, completing a crossword, watching some more cricket, playing the piano, and going for a meal with his family. With maybe some cricket watching (highlights) later in the day.

The future looks busy for Ed. The UK Statistics Authority have just completed a report on Data Sharing and Linkage for the Public Good and the report is available to read on the Office for Statistics Regulation website. There are several other exciting projects being worked on, and with a General Election looming on the horizon, Ed will undoubtedly have an even busier period ahead. 

About the conference

You can hear more from Ed Humpherson at the ADR UK Conference 2023, which will take place in Birmingham from 14 – 16 November. The conference will bring together people involved in the use of administrative data for public good research, including researchers, data scientists, civil service analysts and those involved in making this data available for research.

Early Bird and Group Rate Tickets are available now, only until 21 August 2021. To learn more and buy your ticket please visit the ADR UK Conference 2023 website.

Look out for our next blog with keynote speaker Professor Rohini Mathur, Professor of Epidemiology and Programme Director for the MSC in Health Data Science at Queen Mary University of London.   

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