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

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#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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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)

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

United Statisticians of Europe

 Head of Elstat (Statistics Greece) faces an official criminal investigation

Kerin Hope (Athens) from  Financial Times reports (27.11.2011):  
‘The head of Elstat, Greece’s new independent statistics agency, faces an official criminal investigation for allegedly inflating the scale of the country’s fiscal crisis and acting against the Greek national interest.
Andreas Georgiou, who worked at the International Monetary Fund for 20 years, was appointed in 2010 by agreement with the fund and the European Commission to clean up Greek statistics after years of official fudging by the finance ministry.
“I am being prosecuted for not cooking the books,” Mr Georgiou told the Financial Times. “We would like to be a good, boring institution doing its job. Unfortunately, in Greece statistics is a combat sport.”’

.

Statement of the European Statistical System Committee

 on recent developments concerning ELSTAT in Greece

ESS Logo

Press Release  07.02.13

‘Statement of the Members of the European Statistical System (composed of Eurostat and National Statistical Institutes of EU/EFTA Member States) on recent developments concerning ELSTAT in Greece. 

We the undersigned, who collectively as members of the European Statistical System Committee are responsible for overseeing the production of European Statistics to be in compliance with the highest professional standards throughout the European Union, wish to express our deep concern at recent developments with regard to ELSTAT in Greece, which
we believe can affect not only the integrity of official statistics in that country, but also the functioning of the European Statistical System as a whole.

While fully respecting the independence of national judicial systems and abstaining from commenting on on-going court cases, we are concerned that political debates surrounding judicial action taken against the Head of the Greek statistical office (ELSTAT) and the calling into question of the validity of data which have repeatedly passed the stringent quality checks applied by Eurostat to ensure full compliance with European law seem to disregard commonly agreed European procedures. …

… We are confident that Greek authorities will do everything necessary to protect the independence of ELSTAT, its management and its staff from political and all other interference and support ELSTAT in ensuring that statistics in Greece are produced in line with the principles of the European Statistics Code of Practice.

The European Statistical System will very closely observe the further developments in the Greek statistical system.

The Director General of Eurostat and the Presidents/Directors General
of National Statistical Institutes of the European Union and EFTA’

-> full press release of ESSC (European Statistical System Committee) and link page

.

Background information.

Eurostat 2010 Visit to Greece Report

EDP = Excessive Deficit Procedure

————–

‘… from August 2010, when I took up my post, and for five consecutive biannual publications, the Greek public finance statistics have been accepted by Eurostat without any reservations, following the envisaged checks and validations, and the reliability of these statistics is not doubted by any European or international institution. This holds true also for the fiscal deficit
of 2009, for the calculation of which Eurostat has repeatedly and formally declared that it has been carried out in accordance with the rules and methodology that are provided for in a binding manner in European Law….’

Europe has an Open Data Portal, too

The European Commission

opened its Open Data Portal some days ago.
Powered by CKAN.
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Most of the 5811 datasets (97%) are statistical ones provided by Eurostat.
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Top Publishers
Eurostat (5634 datasets)
European Environment Agency (106 datasets)
Joint Research Centre (37 datasets)
Directorate-General for Health and Consumers (12 datasets)
Publications Office (11 datasets)
Directorate-General for Education and Culture (3 datasets)
Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (2 datasets)
Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (1 datasets)
Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry (1 datasets)
Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (1 datasets)‘.

Linked Open Data are provided

An important step! ‘The European Commission Open Data Portal is well aligned with the initiatives of linked data and semantic web technologies. The dataset metadata is available as triples on triple store and attached to the dataset records.’

One App for the moment…

… but an interesting one creating visualisations based on RDF input, with javascript based output (Highcharts charting library).
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cubevizExample
CubeViz is a facetted browser for statistical data utilizing the RDF Data Cube vocabulary which is the state-of-the-art in representing statistical data in RDF. This vocabulary is compatible with SDMX and increasingly being adopted.’