A meeting of minds: 20 years on

Written by Oz Flanagan on . Posted in Features-OLD

2013 has seen the anniversary of two events that have been of major significance in the history of the RSS. In 1993, the Royal Statistical Society merged with the Institute of Statisticians (IoS) and professional qualifications were introduced. This meant that for the first time, RSS fellows could now become professionally recognised statisticians.

Looking back, the merger seems like a natural progression after an unfortunate quirk of history. In 1947 the RSS attempted to introduce professional examinations but was blocked by the Royal Economic Society. As a result, the Institute of Statisticians was established the following year to oversee the interests of professional statisticians.

Tony Haws, who was chairman of the IoS at the time of the merger, recalls the atmosphere. ‘The merger was a remarkable event. Two earlier attempts to merge the bodies had ended without success and in disappointment. During the 1980s there was a feeling that the task was virtually an impossible one.’ Nevertheless, by the early 1990s the prospect came back to life when, as Tony describes, ‘there was a growing feeling within both organisations that statistical methodology and statisticians were being disregarded by organisations that produced and used statistics.’

Representatives from both organisations set about meeting to discuss how to bring the merger finally to fruition. Instrumental in this process were Peter Moore, Fred Smith, David Bartholomew and Peter Green from the RSS. The IoS representatives were Richard Hackworth, Geoff Clarke and Tony Haws. In the ballot that followed, both the IoS and RSS voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed merger.

The main effect of the merger was to introduce the qualification system of the IoS to the wider RSS. This meant that the RSS, now as a professional body, offered exams at Ordinary Certificate, Higher Certificate and Graduate Diploma level. The professional awards Graduate Statistician (GradStat) and Chartered Statistician (CStat) were also established along with a code of conduct that holders of those awards would have to abide by.

What this gave fellows and graduating students was a clear pathway from the initial certificates and diploma to the highest professional achievement, the CStat. Statisticians now had a framework in the Society to continually improve their skillset, which now does not cease upon receiving a CStat. Trevor Lewis, RSS Theme Director for Professional Affairs explains: ‘In 2004, a Continuing Professional Development policy was introduced in order to clarify the expectation described in the code of conduct that professionally qualified fellows have an obligation “to upgrade knowledge and skill”’.

An important recent development has been the introduction of revalidation for CStat holders. This involves CStat’s providing evidence every five years that they are abiding by the code of conduct and are continuing to maintain and develop their skills and knowledge. The reason for this is to ensure that the highest standards are being maintained, as Trevor explains: ‘There is a distinction between academic qualifications and professional awards. An academic qualification recognised a certain level of educational attainment at some point in time. A professional award needs to reflect your current capability to an employer or client. So you might consider revalidation as a process of periodic professional appraisal to ensure high professional standards are being maintained.’

The value of the CStat was reflected in a survey of professionally qualified members two years ago. What came out of the responses was the sense that the qualification is respected by employers, clients and funders and is an important asset in career progression.

Holders can also interact with the Professional Statisticians' Forum (PSF), which provides a sense of community to statisticians where they can further their professional development and networking. These benefits have been highlighted by the RSS President John Pullinger, who has spoken often about the importance of statisticians today attaining professional qualifications.

Looking ahead, progress continues unabated with a revised code of conduct and a strategic review of the Society’s professional awards on the horizon for 2014. Trevor Lewis remains optimistic about the future of the professional qualifications. ‘I think we are gathering momentum around the awards. For example, 2013 has been a record year for the number of new GradStat awards. Additionally, one side benefit of revalidation is a closer connection with the professional membership and so hopefully this, and the introduction of the PSF, will lead to greater participation and networking amongst statistical practitioners.’

Looking back, Tony Haws too is proud of the achievements that emerged from the merger. ‘Statistics as a subject has been immensely strengthened though the merger and through the developments of the last twenty years. The discipline is now held in far higher regard than before the merger; the new RSS has spoken clearly and forcefully in the public arena on matters of grave importance to the profession and the general public. I would think that the anxieties that fellows and members of both organisations felt more than twenty years ago have long disappeared and that we are all immensely proud to be Fellows of the Royal Statistical Society as it is now, a body that commands the respect and attention of policy makers in government, medicine, commerce and industry.’

History of Science & Statistics

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