Former UK Data Archive director receives honorary degree

Article dated: 19-Jul-13

The University of Essex recognised one of the most eminent social statisticians in the UK with an honorary degree at its 2013 graduation ceremonies.

Professor Denise Lievesley was Director of the UK Data Archive from 1991 to 1998, concurrently serving as Professor of Social Research Methods in the Department of Mathematical Sciences. The Archive's current director, Matthew Woollard, personally honoured her at the ceremony, held on Friday 19 July 2013.

Denise Lievesley

Her tenure at the UK Data Archive coincided with the fast-growing development of digital data; as Director of the Archive, she vigorously promoted the value of giving access to electronic data for research and teaching purposes, both at the aggregate and individual level.

She also spearheaded the move to digital documentation and recognised the tremendous value of the internet as a more effective and efficient means to make data available.

Professor Lievesley also championed the value of giving access to the by-products of government administrative processes.

In the late 1990s she gained access to anonymised tax records, which became a highly used resource for researchers. She also worked with Cathie Marsh at the University of Manchester to persuade the UK government to make a sample of anonymised records from the UK Census. These samples – which are now more than 20 years old – are still used hundreds of times a year. They are now providing a blueprint for similar samples from the 2011 Census.

After leaving the University of Essex, she became Director of Statistics at UNESCO, where she established its Institute for Statistics, designed to ensure that the highest quality statistical information is collected from as many countries as possible.

She has also served as Chief Executive of the NHS Information Centre and a special adviser at the African Centre for Statistics of the UN, based in Addis Ababa.

She took up her current role as Head of the School of Social Science and Public Policy at King's College London in 2008, where she also holds a chair in Social Statistics. In addition, she serves as Chair of the Methodology Committee of the European Social Survey and an international representative on the board of the American Statistical Association.

Professor Lievesley has also held two of the highest offices among statisticians the world over: President of the Royal Statistical Society (1999 to 2001), and President of the International Statistical Institute( 2007 to 2009), the first woman to hold this office.

Throughout her roles, she has advocated for evidence-based policy. "It was back in the late 1990s that she went on record saying, 'Sound policy-making in education is simply not possible without reliable and up-to-date data,'" says Professor Woollard, current Director of the UK Data Archive. "That premise is now an operational principle in all areas of research throughout the UK and other countries. I commend her for her commitment to protecting the integrity of official statistics and ensuring they are free from political influence, as that is the basis for truly effective research that can guide and shape public policy."

The University of Essex bestows honorary degrees for distinction in the areas of study the University specialises in as well as outstanding contributions to the arts, sport, industry, and public service.

This year, Professor Lievesley joins six others to be honoured, including singer-songwriter and human rights activist Annie Lennox; cyclist Laura Trott, who won two gold medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games; and finance journalist Paul Lewis, mostly widely known as presenter of BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme.