Making Statistical Data Meaningful

Part 4 of UNECE’s series “Making Data Meaningful” is about to be published in 2014.

Its title: ‘A Guide to Statistical Literacy’.

UNECE-Part4‘The 4″‘ installment of “Making Data Meaningful” series outlines current initiatives in the field of statistical literacy and provides recommendations for working with different groups of users on improving their ability to comprehend statistical information. The guide is intended as a practical tool for managers, statisticians, and communication and media relations officers in statistical organizations’


‘The Making Data Meaningful guides are intended as a practical tool to help managers, statisticians and media relations officers in statistical organizations use text, tables, charts, maps and other devices to bring statistics to life for non-statisticians.’

All parts can be found here, in English, Spanish, Croatiian and Japanese! ( Part 4 as final draft only (June 2014):


Infographics and ISOTYPE and NSIs


Good infographics for statistical matters do not only need diagrams (like histograms or bar charts) but also lots of icons and symbols helping to illustrate the topic.

A pioneer in this field was Otto Neurath.


‘ISOTYPE – the International System Of TYpographicPicture Education – … was an early infographical form, originated in the 1930s by Austrian philosopher and curator Otto Neurath “as a symbolic way of representing quantitative information via easily interpretable icons”.’ (Information is beautiful)

Animals life

More about transforming data into visualisations also in Marie Neuraths ‘The Transformer: Principles of Making Isotype Charts’ 

2013-06-16_marieneurathtransformerToday: ONS as an example of good visualisations for statistics

Statistical Agencies use visualisations in their daily information work. During the UNECE Work Session on the Communication of Statistics in Berlin (27-29 May 2013) Alan Smith OBE, Office for National Statistics (ONS,UK) gave a short overview and insight in this topic.

Two statements from his paper ‘Data Visualisation for the Citizen User: Making Better Graphics Quicker‘:

‘Data visualisation appeals to National Statistics Institutes (NSIs) because of its ability to engage users and increase the potential outreach of official statistics. But data visualisation is a broad field, with content types ranging from simple infographics through to sophisticated tools for exploratory data analysis. ……

More broadly, data visualisation offers NSIs an opportunity to exploit their expertise in formats which boost user engagement and readership. It also carries with it the highly desirable side effects of boosting relationships with the media and reputational benefits virtually everywhere else. A final note of caution, however, is that these visualisations should be centred on the expertise of the NSI, not based on a notion of style over content – others do that better.’



Official Statistic’s SWOT

In the official statistics industry (an industry!) reflection and  collaboration are highly prioritized.

As an example: HLG-BAS.

What’s this? ‘The High-Level Group for Strategic Developments in Business Architecture in Statistics (HLG-BAS) was set up by the Bureau of the Conference of European Statisticians in 2010 to oversee and coordinate international work relating to the development of enterprise architectures within statistical organisations.’ More about HLG-BAS on UNECE statistics wikis.

And more about the Conference of European Statisticians CES:

Implement the HLG-BAS vision

HLG-BAS presents a very interesting paper for the 60th plenary session of the Conference of European Statisticians. It’s the ‘Strategy to implement the vision of the High-level Group for Strategic Developments in Business Architecture in Statistics‘.

This paper positions official statistics as part of the information industry:
‘The official statistics industry is part of a more extensive information industry. Within this wider information industry other players are claiming their place and statistical organisations cannot automatically assume that they will retain their current position and relevance.’ (point 5)


And the paper summarizes in a short and impressive manner the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of Official Statistics. (point 9)

‘A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis was undertaken by Capgemini Consulting working for Statistics Netherlands to define the current situation of the official statistics industry assessing it from an international perspective. This analysis was based on existing information on the industry (including the vision of the HLG-BAS) complemented by interviews with members of the HLG-BAS (internal stakeholders), commercial organisations and government bodies (external stakeholders).

The results of this exercise are:

1. Strengths

(a) High quality with relevant and very strong statistical products over long term;
(b) Strong “brand value” of official statistics locally and internationally;
(c) Ability and ‘stamina’ to produce statistics for long-term records and consistency;
(d) International collaboration has started mainly because it is becoming too expensive for each NSO to individually change their tailor-made production processes and products.

2. Weaknesses

(a) A limited outside and “client-centric” view;
(b) Communication of products and results is often not good enough;
(c) Workforce and processes should be more agile to follow rapidly the changing needs of society;
(d) NSOs are not efficient enough in their processes and rely too much on human effort;
(e) The statistical industry as a whole has no clear silhouette or definition; international coherence is low;
(f) NSOs should provide more information about statistics, regarding both quality and other metadata;
(g) Top-level commitment to bring about the changes needed to align the statistical industry with the changing environment is not broadly understood as the key factor in this change process.

3. Opportunities

(a) In some specific statistical domains, cross-border data become more important (globalisation, enterprise groups, climate change). The work and products of NSOs should be expanded to explain what is happening on a multinational level;
(b) The “open data” movement may increase the sources available for official statistics;
(c) NSOs could collaborate (more) with (commercial) external parties;
(d) The official statistics industry could play a more active role regarding new and alternative data sources and collection methods;
(e) NSOs could be quality institutes that certify statistical inputs/outputs of other (commercial) parties;
(f) In the statistical domain the NSOs can lead when it comes to defining and maintaining international standards;
(g) Standardisation of production process (plug and play technology) and products of NSOs to increase international comparison and quality control of products;
(h) Consolidation of NSOs roles as public supplier of trust and quality;
(i) International coherence and the willingness to form a more closely knit statistical community or industry are beginning to materialize;
(j) Specialisation of NSOs in certain products to increase efficiency in the production process of these products. This specialisation in products could vary across countries and sectors to optimize the possibilities of specialisation.

4. Threats

(a) Other organisations are starting to create output NSOs used to have a monopoly on;
(b) Reduced staff and budget cuts;
(c) Weak/fragile coordination of international collaboration activities;
(d) Society wants more timeliness in statistics, both in disseminating existing products and in developing new products;
(e) Some government clients do not distinguish between official and non-official data sources for ad hoc questions, as long as it meets their purpose;
(f) New technologies like open data can seduce NSOs into losing focus of their core business.’

The May Dissemination Events

It’s hard and hardly possible to follow all the seminars on dissemination of official statistics in May 2008.

OECD and UNECE are planning interesting events with manifold presentations. Their aim: How to present statistical informations in an attractive way to a broader public? How to use new technologies to do so? For all these May events see the links in the Agenda.

See also a paper I made last automn for the IMAODBConference in Cork dealing with such topics.

Presentation Cork

Card sorting online

For those of us concerned with website usability, “card sorting” is a good way to get feedback from users on how to structure information. Traditionally done face-to-face, it involves getting testers to sort cards, each labelled with a topic, into categories. Find out more about how it works on, or read what Jakob Nielsen has to say about it.

Card sorting can also be done online, providing quick access to a greater pool of testers. OptimalSort is a new online card sorting tool, currently in beta with free sign up until mid August 2007. I found it fast and easy to set up an open or closed card sort.

The best way to see how it works is to try completing this card sort I’ve set up. You’ll be helping our website redesign project too!