What are they doing …. ?

… and how do statistical institutions present what they do?

In times of fake news and austerity measures, statistical offices are feeling more and more the urge to orientate the public about themselves and the usefulness and necessity of trustworthy statistics.

But how to proceed?

Public relations specialists know countless ways to get messages to the target groups. A traditional and usually quite boring way are annual reports. They’re usually just an obligatory thing and treated accordingly.

Annual reports as ambassadors for public statistics

Is this still a quite boring lecture under the changing circumstances mentioned above? Let’s look at a few examples.

 

#1 European Official Statistics

The European Statistical Governance Advisory Board publishes the report, which focuses on fake news and trust issues. It’s  mainly a control report with recommendations to be re-evaluated next year.

Not everyone’s reading but with some interesting facts about the European statistical infrastructure.

ESGAB-Titel-2017

‘ … this year’s Report focuses on the importance of good governance to maintain and increase trust in official statistics, ensuring appropriate access to administrative and privately-held data, and the practical challenges of coordinating NSSs.
Chapter 1 looks first at the challenge of maintaining and enhancing trust in official statistics when there is conflicting information provided by non-official sources or when statistical indicators fail to relate to citizens’ actual experiences. Access to administrative records and privately-held data is then examined, highlighting some of the difficulties encountered by NSIs and the need to ensure that the transposition of the new Regulation on General Data Protection into national law does not hinder access to data for statistical purposes. Finally, the challenge of coordination within NSSs is discussed, particularly in relation to ONAs.
Chapter 2 provides ESGAB’s overview of the implementation of the Code of Practice, ..
Chapter 3 reviews ESGAB’s activities over its first nine years, … ‘ (p.10)
ESGAB-Recommendations-2017
p.8

Glossary
European Statistics
Code of Practice (‘the Code’)
The European Statistics Code of Practice sets
the standards for developing, producing and
disseminating European statistics. It builds on
a common definition of quality in statistics used
in the European Statistical System, composed of
national statistical authorities and Eurostat. ….
European Statistical Governance
Advisory Board (ESGAB, ‘the Board’)
ESGAB provides an independent overview of
the implementation of the Code of Practice. It
seeks to enhance the professional independence,
integrity and accountability of the European
Statistical System, key elements of the Code,
and the quality of European statistics …..
European Statistical System (ESS)
The European Statistical System is a
partnership between the European Union’s
statistical authority, i.e. the Commission
(Eurostat), the National Statistical Institutes
(NSIs) and Other National Authorities (ONAs) ….

Some interesting facts given in this report:

gdp-EU

.

#2 UK

UK is of a similar type to the EU. Somewhat more systematic, with clear performance targets and evaluated indicators …. and tons of financial data.

‘This year has been a challenging one for those of us working in official statistics. Numbers were very much in the news in the run-up to the EU referendum and since. Examples of bad use of numbers and misrepresentation of statistics can cast a shadow over the validity and integrity of evidence. However, information that can be accepted and used with confidence is essential to good decision making by governments, businesses and individuals.’ …’ (John Pullinger,p.4)
‘The 2007 Act requires that the Authority produces a report annually to Parliament and the devolved legislatures on what it has done during the year, what it has found during the year and what it intends to do during the next financial year. This report fulfills that responsibility.’ (p.9)
‘STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES
To achieve its mission, over five years the Authority will focus on five perspectives:
a helpful, professional, innovative, efficient and capable statistical service will, we believe, serve the public good and help our nation make better decisions.’ (p.9)
.
‘KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
The Authority’s Business Plan includes a number of Performance Metrics through which we monitor performance. Our performance against these indicators is summarised in the table below. It is important to note our targets are always used to stretch performance ..’ (p. 9)
And some interesting facts:

 

#3 Sweden

Sweden reports concisely on a few central goals and with the obligatory information on the organisation and infrastructure.

‘Statistics Sweden plays a key role in public infrastructure. Its task is to develop, produce and disseminate official and other government statistics. The Official Statistics Act sets out a number of criteria concerning statistical quality, in which statistical relevance is a top priority.’ (Joakim Stymne, p. 4)

‘Punctuality in publishing remained high and amounted to 99 percent. No corrections that were considered serious were made to the published statistics during the year, and there were fewer internal error reports than in 2016.’ (p. 7)


‘During 2017, Statistics Sweden has studied how its customers and users view the agency and its products in different ways.’ (p. 10)

#4 Switzerland

Switzerland differs from other reports in two ways:
– The report shows not only the activities of the Office, but also the state of the country according to various topics (the milestones of the multi-annual statistical programme, and at the same time a small Statistical Yearbook).
– And it is very personal, responsible persons behind the statistics become visible.

German and French only

‘Die erste Halbzeit der Legislatur ist um und damit auch die ersten zwei Jahre des statistischen Mehrjahresprogramms 2016–2019. Die darin festgelegten Ziele und Schwerpunkte bilden die Leitlinien für die Arbeit der Bundesstatistik. Die für das Jahr 2017 geplanten Meilensteine konnten erfolgreich umgesetzt werden. … … der Auftrag der Bundesstatistik wie folgt zusammengefasst: «Im Zentrum des Auftrags der Bundesstatistik stehen die Erstellung und die Vermittlung von nutzergerechten Informationen zu wichtigen Lebensbereichen unserer Gesellschaft. Diese Informationen dienen unter anderem der Planung und Steuerung zentraler Politikbereiche, deren Stand und Entwicklung mit Hilfe der statistischen Informationen beobachtet und beurteilt werden können.” (Georges-Simon Ulrich, p.5)

The state of statistics in the topic areas: e.g. Population

And the targets for the future: focal points and priority developments in the coming year:

Some interesting facts about structure and publishing

Staff

Publishing

.

# 5 Germany

Germany is taking a quite different approach: the annual report is more like a scientific magazine. With interviews and contributions to focal topics.

D-title

‘ People are being guided more by their emotions and less and less by facts – this is how we might sum up the post-truth debate which reached its hitherto climax last year, culminating in “postfaktisch” (post-factual, or post-truth) being chosen as the German Word of the Year 2016. …
I hope that all of the other topics dealt with in this report provide you with a good insight into all matters figure-related and that, in so doing, we can enhance your trust and confidence in official statistics.’ (Dieter Sarreither, p.3).
.
The table of contents shows how this report is designed as a magazine
.
Some interesting information about the office
.
This report also gives itself a personal touch and shows the responsible management personnel

.

# Conclusion

Annual reports are certainly not the most effective way of informing the public about the activities and importance of statistical institutions. They must be approached with other measures; they must be embedded in PR measures. Then they can – especially if they are well made – contribute a lot to understanding official statistics.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

There is no New Thing under the Sun – Yes and No

Twitter reminded me that there’s #NTTS2017 going on, Eurostat’s biennial scientific conference on New Techniques and Technologies for Statistics (NTTS).

The opening session also focused on official statistics and its actual and future role in a world of data deluge and alt-facts. What will be Official Statistics in 30 years?
In Diego Kuonen’s presentation and discussion on ‘Big Data, Data Science, Machine Intelligence and Learning’ I could hear an answer to this question reminding me of a text in the Bible: “… that [thing] which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun”.
And this not to be understood in a static but in a dynamic interpretation:
The work statistical institutions are doing today will be the same that they will do tomorrow … BUT a work adapted to the changing context.
The algorithms (understood in a broader sense as ‘a set of rules that precisely defines a sequence of operations ->‘) used in collecting, analyzing and disseminating data will be changing, manual work will / must be replaced by automation, robots. But the core role of being a trusted source of data-based and (in all operations) transparently produced information serving professional decision making will remain.
The challenge will be that these institutions
– are known,
– are noted for their veracity,
– are consulted
and with all this can play their role.
In this fighting to be heard humans will always play a decisive part.
That’s a clear message (as I understood it) of a data scientist looking ahead.
.
PS. A step towards automation consists of preparing and using linked data. See the NTTS 2017 satellite session “Hands-on workshop on Linked Open Statistical Data (LOD)”

Post Post-Truth

postfaktisch

‘Fake-news’ and ‘post-truth’ (postfaktisch) are the words dominating today many discussions about truth in communication.

' ... in post-truth [post] has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept [truth] has become unimportant or irrelevant’' (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/press/news/2016/11/15/WOTY-16).

False information or even lies are not new in the information business. And therefore many, and many more websites help to separate wrong from right:

The Reporters’ Lab maintains a database of global fact-checking sites.

snip_factcheckingplaces

And Alexios Mantzarlis ‘collected 366 links, one for each day of the year …  to understand fact-checking in 2016′.

 

Official Statistics’ Ethical Codex

Officials Statistics collect, analyze and disseminate statistical information since long and are also confronted with wrong citations, misuse of statistics and lies. Many of the ethical codices of official statistics recommend acting against such false information.

‘In 1992, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) adopted the fundamental principles of official statistics in the UNECE region. The United Nations Statistical Commission adopted these principles in 1994 at the global level. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) endorsed the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics in 2013; and in January 2014, they were adopted by General Assembly. This recognition at the highest political level underlines that official statistics – reliable and objective information – is crucial for decision making.’

snip_funprinciplesun

Two paragraphs are of special interest:

‘ 2. Professional standards and ethics
To retain trust in official statistics, the statistical agencies need to decide according to strictly professional considerations, including scientific principles and professional ethics, on the methods and procedures for the collection, processing, storage and presentation of statistical data.’

AND:

‘4. Prevention of misuse
The statistical agencies are entitled to comment on erroneous interpretation and misuse of statistics.’

The European Statistics Code of Practice says in principle 1:

1.7: The National Statistical Institute and Eurostat and, where appropriate, other statistical authorities, comment publicly on statistical issues, including criticisms and misuses of statistics as far as considered suitable.

snip_funprinciplesess

N.B: Wikipedia’s page on Misuse of statistics presents a broad view how readers can be fooled by many types of misuse.

It’s dissemination – …

False – and especially deliberately false – information as a weapon in manipulating decisions isn’t new either. But new is how such information spreads: with the help of social media dissemination gains a new level  (some say like earlier Gutenberg’s printing press ).

Anne Applebaum gives a practical illustration of how it can work:

‘I was a victim of a Russian smear campaign. I understand the power of fake news.

It was a peculiar experience, but I learned a lot. As I watched the story move around the Web, I saw how the worlds of fake websites and fake news exist to reinforce one another and give falsehood credence. Many of the websites quoted not the original, dodgy source, but one another. There were more phony sites than I’d realized, though I also learned that many of their “followers” (maybe even most of them) are bots — bits of computer code that can be programmed to imitate human social media accounts and told to pass on particular stories.
….
But it is also true that we are living through a global media revolution, that people are hearing and digesting political information in brand-new ways and that nobody yet understands the consequences. Fake stories are easier to create, fake websites can be designed to host them, and social media rapidly disseminates disinformation that people trust because they get it from friends. This radical revolution has happened without many politicians noticing or caring — unless, like me, they happened to have seen how the new system of information exchange works.’

 

2017

May 2017 become the year of people who know about the power and the dangers of misleading information!
My best wishes to the colleagues in Official Statistics and their professional producing and disseminating information …. and perhaps statistical dissemination will need to be more active on social media, too.

 

 

20 Years Ago

1996

On the 2nd of September 1996, Statistics Switzerland published its brand-new website, www.bfs.admin.ch. It was one of the first (if not the first) of the Swiss Administration (www.admin.ch).

info-internet

In three languages…

… and already with quite rich structure and content.

SwissStats-April1997

The Wayback Machine …

… shows the developments since 1996

snip_waybackmachine

https://archive.org/web/.

1996:
Handmade with Frontpage as editing software

SwissStats-fields

https://web.archive.org/web/19970502093430/http://www.admin.ch/bfs/stat_ch/eber_m.htm

November 2004:
New layout, made with Day Communiqué as Content Management System and a database for file download

StatSchweiz-November2004

December 2007 ff
Layout adapted to the general layout of admin.ch. The same CMS now bought by Adobe and renamed Adobe Experience Manager AEM

StatSchweiz-Dezember2007

snip_bfs-2016

The next one …

… must be based on a new technology:

  • CMS remains state of the art for content presentation
  • Assets come from databases
  • Web services (via a web service platform) deliver assets from databases to the presentation platform.

And with such a three-layer architecture the website will be able to display data from ubiquitous databases and also offering data to third parties via web services: Open data compatible.