Approaches to presenting uncertainty in the statistical system

Published:
21 September 2022
Last updated:
21 September 2022

Executive summary

Introduction

Describing, quantifying and visualising uncertainty in statistics can be complex and we have discovered through our work that this can present many challenges for producers of statistics. Ensuring that uncertainty around estimates is conveyed well is an important part of ensuring the appropriate use and interpretation of statistics. At OSR, we are the UK’s official statistics regulator, and we consider uncertainty through all parts of our regulatory work. This report presents our initial findings in this area and is intended to be the first part of an ongoing series of outputs that consider uncertainty in statistics.

Findings

Presenting uncertainty in a meaningful, succinct way that delivers the key messages can be challenging for producers. This is particularly true when it comes to publishing data tables. We found that uncertainty is typically better depicted and described in statistical bulletins and methodological documents than it is in data tables, data dashboards and downloadable datasets. 

There has been a rise in the use of infographics and other ways of visualising uncertainty. We saw great examples from some producers of where this has been done well. But in general, more needs to be done in this space as it can be particularly useful when producers show uncertainty in a graphical form. 

We also found that there is a wide and increasing range of guidance and advice to help producers think about how to best present uncertainty. OSR will do more to promote and support good practice, and consider what this means for our regulatory work. We will focus on the judgements that we make and the guidance we produce in order to help producers to improve the presentation of uncertainty.

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