Easy-to-understand Statistics for the Public

In a recently published EUROSTAT publication, the authors demand innovative forms of communication from public statistics in order not to lose their socially important role. Among other things, they demand ‘…. to tell stories close to the people; to create communities around specific themes; to develop among citizens the ability to read the data and understand what is behind the statistical process.’

Telling Stories

The UNECE hackathon that has just been completed responds to this challenge.
‘A hackathon is an intensive problem-solving event. In this case, the focus is on statistical content and effective communication. The teams will be challenged to “Create a user-oriented product that tells a story about the younger population”. During the Hackathon, fifteen teams from nine countries had 64.5 hours to create a product that tells a story about the younger population. The teams were multidisciplinary – with members from statistical offices and other government departments. The product created should be innovative, engaging, and targeted towards the general public (that is, not specialists). There was no limit on the form of the product, but the teams had to include a mandatory SDG indicator in the product.
The mandatory indicator was “Proportion of youth (aged 15-24 years) not in education, employment or training” SDG indicator (Indicator 8.6.1).‘ (Source)

Winners

And the hackathon shows impressive results, even if only a few organisations have participated.

The four winners are:

My Favourites

My favourites are number 3 from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI-Mexico) and number 2 from the Central Statistical Office of Poland.

Why?

The Mexican solution…

…is aesthetically pleasing and easy to use. The interaction is left to the user and can be individually controlled by him/her in the speed.

The diagrams do not stand alone, but are explained by short texts while scrolling.

The results are not just being accepted. Rather, the concepts are explained and questioned – statistics are presented with the methodological background.

The Polish solution…

…starts with a jourmalistic approach. Here too, the interactivity can be controlled by the user at the desired speed.

At the end, the authors also seek direct contact with the users; a quiz personalizes the statistical data and gives an individual assessment of where the users stand personally with regard to these statistics.

Success Factors

The two applications mentioned above combine decisive user-friendly features:
– visually attractive,
– easy-to-understand navigation that can be controlled by the user according to his needs,
– the journalistic approach,
– concise and instructive explanations,
– personalization,
– hints on the methodological background.

Many of the other applications show the frequently encountered weaknesses: Too much information should be provided, no courage to leave something behind and concentrate on the most important elements. And this leads to long texts and complex navigation with the effect that users quit quickly.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Communication of statistics in times of fake news

In a recent paper Emanuele Baldacci, (Director, Eurostat) and Felicia Pelagalli, (President, InnovaFiducia) deal with the ‘challenges for official statistics of changes in the information market spurred by network technology, data revolution and changes in information consumers’ behaviours’ (p.3)

Three scenarios

The status-quo or bad scenario:

‘Information will continue to be consumed via multiple decentralized channels, with new information intermediaries emerging through social platforms, digital opinion leaders, technologies that reinforce belonging to peers with similar profiles and backgrounds, including in terms of beliefs.’  … ‘Under this scenario it is likely that increased competition from alternative data providers will put pressure on the official statistics position in the information ecosystem and lead to drastic reduction of public resources invested in official statistics, as a result of the perceived lack of relevance.’ (p.8)

 

The ugly scenario:

‘Big oligopoly giants will emerge by integrating technologies, data and content and providing these to a variety of smaller scale platforms and information intermediaries, with limited pricing power for further dissemination. In this scenario, data generated by sensors and machines connected to the network will increasingly create smart information for individuals. However, individuals will not participate in the data processing task, but will be mostly confined to crowdsourcing data for digital platforms and using information services.’
‘In this scenario, official statistics will be further marginalized and its very existence could be put in jeopardy. More importantly, no public authority with significant influence could be in charge of assessing the quality of data used in the information markets. Statistics as a public good may be curtailed and limited to a narrow set of dimensions. …  Official statisticians will appear as old dinosaurs on the way to extinction, separated from the data ecosystem by a huge technology and capability gap.’ (p.9)

 

The good scenario:

The authors do not stop here. They also see a good scenario, but a scenario that implies a huge engagement.

This scenario is ‘predicated on two major assumptions.
First, the information market will be increasingly competitive by sound regulations that prevent the emergence of dominant positions in countries and even more important across them.
Second, official statistics pursue a strong modernization to evolve towards the production of smart statistics, which fully leverage technology and new data sources while maintaining and enhancing the quality of the data provided to the public.
In this scenario, official statistics will generate new more sophisticated data analytics that cater to different users by tailored information services. It uses network technologies (e.g., blockchain, networks) to involve individuals, companies and institutions in the design, collection, processing and dissemination of statistics. It engages users with open collaborative tools and invests heavily in data literacy to ensure their usability. It strengthens skills and capacity on statistical communication to help users understand in transparent manners what are the strengths and limitations of official statistics.’ (p. 9/10)

 

Actions needed to face the challenges ahead

The good scenario already depicts some needed actions to be taken by official statisticians. The authors conclude with proposals that are not really new, ideas that have been on the table for some time but are not so easy to implement.

‘It is important to change mindsets and practices which have been established, in order to put in contact the citizens with official statistics, to make data accessible, to expand the understanding of their analysis, to support individuals, business and institutions in the decision-making process.

The key issue is how to be authoritative and to develop quality knowledge in the new and changing information market. It is important to know the rules and languages of the media platforms used for communication; to overcome the technicalities; to tell stories close to the people; to create communities around specific themes; to develop among citizens the ability to read the data and
understand what is behind the statistical process. In summary, put people at the center (overused phrase, but extremely valuable):
⎯ communicate statistics through engaging experiences and relevant to the people who benefit from them;
⎯ customize the content;
⎯ adopt “user analytics” to acquire the knowledge of the “users” through the analysis of data (web and social analytics) and the understanding of people’s interaction with the different platforms.’ (p.11)

And the concluding words call for external assistance:

‘It will be essential for statisticians to build more tailored data insight services and team up with communication experts to play a more proactive role in contrasting fake news, checking facts appropriately and building users’ capacity to harness the power of data.’ (p.12)

 

 

 

 

 

Corporate nieuws

Eurostat’s biennial scientific conference on New Techniques and Technologies for Statistics (NTTS) is over, a labyrinth of a website is online and tons of documents are somewhere published.

CBS Corporate nieuws summarizes the important trends discussed:
1) New data sources and the consequences
2) The importance of a proactive communication
3) Big Data and algorithms in official statistics

trends.pngCBS06-06-2017 Miriam van der Sangen 

Corporate websites

Why taking this information just from CBS (the Dutch Statistical Office)? Because CBS Corporate nieuws is an excellent example of the second trend: proactive communication, proactivity in delivering (statistical) information to users. The website makes corporate information public and gives insights into activities of CBS and statistics. You see topics …

… and the people behind it.

The target public of this corporate website are enterprises, administrations, journalists, students and whoever may be interested.

A shorter English version is integrated into the CBS website.

Corporate websites like CBS’ are not quite usual. They are resource consuming but are probably very good in helping to understand statisticians’ mission and work .. and in motivating employees.

 

 

 

 

Basic Needs and Delighters

How to find out user needs? Which method to choose?

These questions find an innovative answer in an article from Ilka Willand (of Destatis, the German Statistical Office) published in number 31 of IAOS’ Statistical Journal

Beyond traditional customer surveys: The reputation analysis
Authors: Willand, Ilka
DOI: 10.3233/sji-150866
Journal: Statistical Journal of the IAOS, vol. 31, no. 2, 2015

Here a short version with pieces taken from this article:

Abstract

‘An important strategic goal of Destatis is to continuously collect information about the customer satisfaction and the perception of important stakeholders and target groups. We conduct frequent customer surveys since 2007. But not all important stakeholders and target groups are necessarily registered customers. To learn more about their demands a reputation analysis was conducted in 2013 in cooperation with a market researcher. To determine a manageable frame for the study, we focused on three target groups: Respondents (households and enterprises), fast multipliers (online and data journalists) and young multipliers (young academics). The analysis was mainly based on the “Kano-Model”, a methodological approach, which is often used in quality management and product development. In the following article the survey design and the main results will be presented.’

Basic needs and Delighters

‘The most important category is the basic needs. Basic needs are taken for granted and they are typically unspoken. If they are fulfilled, they do not increase satisfaction. If they are not fulfilled, they will cause dissatisfaction.
Delighters are unexpected features that make customers happy. They do not necessarily cause dissatisfaction when not fulfilled, because they are not expected.’

 Three Target Groups in Focus

‘To determine a manageable frame we focused on three target groups who became increasingly important for the work of the Federal Statistical Office in the past years:
a) Respondents (households, enterprises)
b) Fast multipliers (online and datajournalists)
c) Young multipliers (young graduates and PhD students of social and economic sciences).

‘Target groups were asked for their basic needs and delighters concerning data search, data use and the reporting process.
On a scale from 0 (very bad) to 7 (very good) the reputation values are 5.3 for the fast and the young multipliers, 4.7 for the households and 4.6 for the enterprises.’

2015-06-06_Destatis-resultsgaph

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Respondents

‘Most important basic needs and delighters: Especially for the responding enterprises it is a basic need important to get survey results after the survey is completed. A telephone service is a basic need especially for the bigger companies and the households to support the reporting process.
It is a delighter for enterprises to respond only online. This is currently being implemented in Germany, regardless of the results of the survey.’

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Fast Multipliers

Most important basic needs and delighters: Fast multipliers expect more than databases and datasets. For almost every second a telephone-support is a basic need. This is quite interesting because there are many internal discussions at Destatis to give up that service for the journalists. Also they expect to find data they are looking for as fast as possible and for free on the internet. After an average of 14 minutes of searching on the Destatis website they will contact the information service if they are not able to find what they are looking for. To satisfy their basic need to find data as quick as possible we have to improve the search engine.
Most of our data is already available for free. Interactive charts would delight most of the journalists. Application programming interfaces (APIs) to grab huge amounts of primary data are the delighter especially for the data journalists.’

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Young Multipliers

Most important basic needs and delighters: There are intersections between the young and the fast multipliers. Young multipliers also want data as fast as possible and for free on the internet. Most of the PhD students expect detailed methodological descriptions related to the datasets. What are the delighters? Surprisingly one half of the young academics mentioned examples on how to read tables and charts as a delighter. Similar to the fast multipliers we have overestimated their statistical knowledge in the past. Already more than one third of them see the opportunity to search for data via smartphone or tablet as a delighter. That means we have to offer more appropriate publication formats in the future.’

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Results at a Glance

2015-06-06_Destatis-results

 See also

Ilka Willand got the award at IMAODBC 2013 for presenting this reputation study. See he slides at https://blogstats.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/imaodbc-2013-and-the-winner-is/

Data2Life

‘Better Data. Better Lives’ is a very well made video about the role of statistics. Everybody agrees that data are necessary for evidence based decisions and progress. But all communication work has to deal with the problem that striking examples demonstrating this connection are not easy to be presented. Perhaps in the next video? 😉

Broader Measures

The 46th session of the United Nations Statistcal Commission from 3 to 6 March 2015 at UN Headquarters in New York will deal with a report on broader (and better) measures of progress. This ‘report presents a roadmap for the development and implementation of an indicator and monitoring framework for the post-2015 development agenda. In particular the report discusses the development of the post-2015 indicator framework.’

Listicles: Where Stats are Popular

 

There are many forms statistical information can be published. In most cases Official Statistics use press releases or reports or single tables to be downloaded, some also (more and more) visualisations.

But it’s quite rare that rankings or numbered lists are used. And just these forms are among the most popular and attract attention. Who or what is biggest, smallest, first, best? Listicles answer such popular questions: ‘listicle is a short-form of writing that uses a list as its thematic structure, but is fleshed out with sufficient copy to be published as an article’ Wikipedia explains.

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listicle.co

2014-09-12_listiclev.

Also Huffpost does it and …

…  gives a listicle with 8 reasons to avoid listicles

2014-09-12_Huffpost-Listicles

 

The  phenomenon of written lists Explained (?)

Steven Poole from The Guardian on the crucial facts about the internet phenomenon of written lists and ‘top nine things you need to know about ‘listicles”:
‘Psychologically, the listicle is seductive because it promises upfront to condense any subject into a manageable number of discrete facts or at least factoids. When you embark on reading an ordinary article, you have no way of knowing how many things it will tell you. Maybe 15, maybe two. Frustrating. Plus, if you’re reading online and it’s more than a single screen long, you can’t be sure when it’s going to end. A listicle keeps helpfully informing you how much of it there is left. Great! You’ve now read three out of nine! Keep going!’

Arika Okrent, in University of Chicago Magazine writes about ‘The listicle as literary form’ and gives -as a conclusion – a list of Eight fun facts about the listicle:
‘1.     A listicle is an article in the form of a list.
2.     It is kind of like a haiku or a limerick.
3.     It has comforting structure.
4.     It makes pieces.
5.     It puts them in an order.
6.     Language does that too.
7.     Sometimes with great difficulty.
8.     Lists make it look easier.’

Rachel Edidin from WIRED gives ‘5 Reasons Listicles Are Here to Stay, and Why That’s OK’

And Maria Konnikova from The New Yorker gives ‘A List (yes!) of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists’:
‘In the current media environment, a list is perfectly designed for our brain. We are drawn to it intuitively, we process it more efficiently, and we retain it with little effort. Faced with a detailed discussion of policies toward China or five insane buildings under construction in Shanghai, we tend to choose the latter bite-sized option, even when we know we will not be entirely satisfied by it. And that’s just fine, as long as we realize that our fast-food information diet is necessarily limited in content and nuance, and thus unlikely to contain the nutritional value of the more in-depth analysis of traditional articles that rely on paragraphs, not bullet points.’

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And Official Statistcs?  …… Bar Charts as Hidden lists

(Official) Statistics are a big provider of lists too …. but they do it not in a very prominent way, often hidden in visualisations. Bar charts compare countries, resources.

Sometimes quite modestly …

WorldBank-Rankings.

Sometimes explicitly,,,

2014-09-21_EducationRanking-2

 

Frightfully Boring? Not at all!

Statistical information is frightfully boring, it doesn’t regard me as a person! Yes and no. Yes, official statistics is not interested in a single person, data protection forbids this. But no, on a aggregated level we can find a lot of knowledge about our own situation. Interactive applications offer this.

There’s a quite new own from UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). ‘UNESCO is making data count for the millions of children still being denied their right to education by benchmarking and monitoring global progress on education-related Millennium Development Goals and Education for All targets.’
Mind the Gap, a new online tool highlights the situation of girls and women in education.

2013-10-20_unesco.

2013-10-20_UNESCO-CH-profileABS Census Spotlight

But my favourite from a presentation view is still the Australian Census Spotlight, the new version with a personal infographic and social media link. Why? Perhaps it’s because there’s a speaker helping me navigating the information and leading me to some insights about the group of persons I belong to.

2013-10-20_censussptlight