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.


‘ … 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)

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:



#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)
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)
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




# 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.


‘ 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.






Visual storytelling

An example of a well made storytelling with simpledynamic graphics and short textual explanations for a broad public. In (Flash and) Italian only … but pictures say more than 1000 words in every language 😉

More visual storytelling here on the website of Statistics Italia

Istat’s new website

Statistical agencies provide masses of data and every  launch of an agency’s new website is an exciting experience: how do they manage to present their data for different user groups? On August 1st Statistics Italia did it!

Here some words from the official announcement: ‘Information is organized by theme and territory, which increases content traceability along with tagging and search engine optimisation.
The new site’s strong points are a wider use of dynamic, interactive visual elements and content in open formats, available to users through a Creative Commons license. The opening of channels with Istat’s logo on Social Media, moreover, ensures timely and viral dissemination of institutional web content on the Net.’

My first impressions (a statistically not significant sample ;-))

  • A beautiful design, clear, fresh, good pictures, attractively animated header!
  • Innovative functionalities: graphic widgets and a simple but effective database widget (find local information)  on the first page and on thematic pages. But: after downloading a graphic widget no information about country or source of information visible in the chart ( lost context) .
  • Good outreach with news feeds in diverse formats  (RSS, Atom, JSON).
  • Output oriented, thematic structure (19 topics) and 19 thematic entry pages with 4 standard offers:
    1. news
    2. simple graphics (widgets)
    3. datasets (access to preconfigured database requests, the database itself is for specialists!), with EXCEL and SDMX (sic!) download. But no way back from dati.istat.it to istat.it
    4. interactive presentation with maps and diagrams (using the NComVA toolset)
  • An innovative licence model using Creative Commons. (This could be well communicated as a step to open government data Italia):

  • Good social media integration on every page, i.e. a blog (rapporto annuale – Who is this?)
  • Navigation  distributed over the page from top to bottom, sometimes in the middle of  a content page: Not so easy to be understood intuitively. The (more and more important) mobile access hidden in the footer.
  • Interesting alternative to surfing by navigation: Data access also via tags (data objects stored and tagged in a database and displayed via search?)
  • An open philosophy: Not only open data licence but also open for using third party tools like fusioncharts and NComVA visualisations.

Storytelling with maps and graphs – Some examples

It’s like an app, a separate presentation not embedded into the navigation of the mother website. One single link only – behind the NSI logo – gives the context to the whole statistical content offered by Statistics Italia. I speak of … noi italia.

And it’s beautiful. A mix of static and dynamic (flash, delivered by NCVA) content, text (some call it storytelling) with interactive graphs and maps. .

With the same technology used by noi italia Statistics Sweden just launched its Statistikatlas and also some thematical visualisations or vislets integrated into the website.

Compare i.e. with EUROSTATS Table Graph Maps application which has no texts or storytelling included.

Or with Switzerland’s Stat@las.

IMAODBC 2010: And the winner is . . .

The Bo Sundgren Award of the International Marketing and Output Database Conference IMAODBC 2010 in Vilnius goes to Vincenzo Patruno from Statistics Italy ISTAT. In his presentation about Data Sharing Vincenzo Patruno demonstrates the use of widgets for the dissemination of statistical informations. Widgets are small pieces of code which can be embedded in a website and interact with an application, i.e. a database. Once embedded the information they provide is always updated automatically whenever the application itself is updated.
See some examples on Vincenzos Blogespecially the post How to Share a whole application on the Web. The small table with figures for Rome on the right hand-column of his blog is such a widget.

Translate a website with connecting links in seconds!

Here is an example of translation of a unique ISTAT education material from Italian into English. Google Translate manages most combinations of languages. Not perfect but understandable, isn’t it? And also all connecting links in Italian are translated. Try and compare with the official English version, which is often not comprehensive.

Il valore dei dati

ISTAT, the National Institute of Statistics of Italy, offers a special site promoting the understanding and usage of official statistics:


It is made (not only) for students. Taking a look at the sitemap shows the overall conception:

  • The usage of statistics in decision making (Chapter 1)
  • The fundamentals of producing statistics (Chapter 2)
  • Quality: What statistics can we trust? (Chapter 3)
  • Working with statistics: how to find data, how to present these data (tables, graphs ..) (Chapter 4)

If there will not be an English version we will have to learn Italian! Thanks Paola for the hint!
Sitemap-Valore dati

And there are even more pages ISTAT dedicates to students. Per gli studenti – For Students gives an overview. Statistica per esempi – Statistics by examples is a very interesting (online-) brochure introducing statistical topics using everyday situations (“Il volume Statistica per esempi, che spiega l’uso della statistica, la raccolta delle informazioni e la rappresentazione dei dati attraverso esempi della vita quotidiana…”)

Seminar on Dynamic Graphics for Presenting Statistical Indicators. Rome 5 – 6 March 2007

OECD and ISTAT (Statistics Italy) are organizing a seminar on data visualization: ” In recent years focus has been on the use of indicators in discussions of international forums, such as the OECD World Forum. Several statistical and analytical organisations are increasingly seeing it as important to present statistical indicators on key societal phenomena to a number of different audiences. The seminar is about the art of making statistical indicators understandable and appealing to modern audiences. Leading-Edge products will be showcased. A review of technical solutions (XML plug-in, Java, SVG, Flash…) will be made and participants will have the opportunity to participate to discussions on how to select, develop and implement dynamic graphics (purpose, strategy, tailored tools or off-the-shelf…)”.

More to be found on OECD’s Statistics Portal.

In 2005 two seminars about the use of graphics in dissemination of statistics have taken place in Switzerland and Sweden:

Statistics Switzerland: Visualising and Presenting Indicator Systems International Conference 14 – 16 March 2005

Statistics Sweden: Visualisation of statistical data, 6 december 2005.