As a communications professional, I use insights and ideas to implement and deliver impactful communications. Using statistics is a great way to use evidence and explain complicated information, but comms people are not always well-known for their statistical literacy and this can sometimes cause problems.

During a busy day in the comms team, any use of numbers in a press release, tweet or presentation should align with the Code, ensuring messages are clear, measured and appropriately tell the story. It is essential that production and use of statistics by governments command confidence in the statistics and organisations using them and help those listening understand the key messages.

At the Office for Statistics Regulation we are interested in how numbers can be used powerfully and collectively across government, to convey important messages and information. Statistical leadership by government is essential to ensure the right data and analysis exist; to ensure they are used at the right time to inform decisions; and to ensure they are communicated clearly and transparently in a way which will support confidence in the data and decisions made on the basis of it.

Statistical leadership is not just about having good leadership of the statistics profession. While this is important, we want to make sure individuals inside and outside the statistics profession show leadership. This should happen right through from the most junior analysts producing statistics to the most senior Ministers quoting statistics in parliament and media. It is relevant to all professions including policy and communications specialists.

Communications teams should work in close partnership with their department’s analysts, to ensure that any use of statistics does not distract from your key communications messages, or itself become the story. The winning situation is using statistics in a helpful way, to convey the right impact, help tell the story, gain understanding and enhance the organisation’s reputation in the process.

The Code of Practice for Statistics and its principles and practices of ‘trustworthiness, quality and value’ provides an excellent guide to ensure this is done as effectively as possible, to ensure users can confidently make decisions about the statistics that are presented to them, using them without question to access what they require and need.

Statistics can really add to public debate as we have seen during the events of COVID-19, when the nation has used numbers to understand the pandemic and its impacts on society, the economy and wider. But it is essential that anyone using numbers and speaking on behalf of government can communicate statistics effectively, in a way that commands confidence and helps those listening understand the key messages. The simplest way to achieve these outcomes and empower your message is to ask the right questions about statistics before you use them. And, if you still feel unsure then find another way to evidence your point.

However, comms people don’t need to know the Code inside out and should always work closely with Heads of Profession for Statistics for advice, support on using numbers and understanding of guiding principles.

If you are interested in finding out more about using statistics, the Code or Statistics Leadership please get in touch with me or visit our website.

Here are some tips…

  • Does it look right? Is that an implausible number? If it’s unusual, it could be wrong… what’s behind the surprise?
  • What exactly are we measuring and why? Is the source reputable and did they show their working?
  • Where do the data come from? What is the backstory and always be curious about someone else’s data. What do we discover if we go another click?
  • Only compare the comparable. Watch out for changes in definitions and different ways to measure the same thing . What’s the historical trend?
  • Presentation is key. Good use of pictures and graphics help convey meaning and should never cause confusion or misrepresentation
  • Remember to ask your Head of Profession for statistics, or a statistician who has worked to produce the data, for advice on how best to present numbers in communications.