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 first – Visual.ONS

Visual representations of statistical data are attractive – and worth to build an own website with nothing but (info)graphs and maps … and more behind it!

ONS did it:


‘The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and is the recognised national statistical institute for the UK. Visual.ONS is a website exploring new approaches to making ONS statistics accessible and relevant to a wide public audience. The site supports the UK Statistic Authority’s publicly stated intention of “making data, statistics and analysis more accessible, engaging and easier to understand”.
The site will be a home to a variety of different content, including infographics, interactive visualisations and short analysis, exploring data from a range of ONS outputs. It is neither a replacement nor a rebuild of the current ONS website which continues to be the home of ONS’ regular outputs and statistics.’

So far the statement of ONS.


More than pictures

Behind the graphs you can find lots of interactive tools.
A calculator to find out life expectancy is one example:


Great! And the graphs and interactive tools can be embedded into other websites.

Timeline of Statistics


In 2010 the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) launched the getstats campaign in order to bring statistics to various groups like general public, journalists or teachers and ‘to increase statistical literacy and … to raise the profile of statistics and its increasing relevance in today’s data-rich society’.

getstats offers a lot of interesting resources, One of these is …

The Timeline


Download the Timeline as pdf

‘Statistics is about gathering data and working out what the numbers can
tell us. From the earliest farmer estimating whether he had enough grain
to last the winter to the scientists of the Large Hadron Collider confirming
the probable existence of new particles, people have always been making
inferences from data. Statistical tools like the mean or average summarise
data, and standard deviations measure how much variation there is within a
set of numbers. Frequency distributions – the patterns within the numbers
or the shapes they make when drawn on a graph – can help predict future
events. Knowing how sure or how uncertain your estimates are is a key part
of statistics.
Today vast amounts of digital data are transforming the world and the
way we live in it. Statistical methods and theories are used everywhere, from
health, science and business to managing traffic and studying sustainability
and climate change. No sensible decision is made without analysing the data.
The way we handle that data and draw conclusions from it uses methods
whose origins and progress are charted here’ (in this timeline).
Julian Champkin
Significance magazine

Discussing Official Statistics and Open Data in UK

Committees discussing official statistics

In UK te committees of the House of Commons and the House of Lords  examine various issues in detail. Select committees operate largely by an investigative process and launch inquiries on many topics, among them official statistics.

Especially  ‘the Public Administration Select Committee is scrutinising the issue of statistics and their use in Government by means of ten short studies. They are:

1. The operation of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007
2. The work of the Office for National Statistics
3. Statistics and the regions and nations of the UK
4. Communicating and publishing statistics
5. Migration statistics
6. Transparency, open data and statistics
7. The Census
8. Budgeting for statistics across Government
9. Statistics for the economy and public finances
10. The comprehensiveness of official statistics. ‘

Communicating and publishing statistics

The report about Communicating and publishing statistics published in May 2013 gives interesting insights in  questions and topics  like
– Finding official statistics
– Presenting and explaining statistics
– Statistics on demand and
– Misuse of official statistics.

Screenshot-1For those who follow the discussions about disseminating official statistics there’s nothing really new in this paper. We read well known analysis and demands. Till now nobody has found the definitive and unique answer and solution to all the questions because official statistics embraces so many topics and serves so many different users with a multitude of different needs.

But for a lot of use cases there aready exist excellent solutions and offers: visualisations, interactive statistics, user friendly database access etc. This blog gives many examples.

Moreover, official statistics are in front of the open data initiatives. Most of the data sets in the open data portals of governments come from the natonal statistical institutes and developments in new semantic data formats are also on the agenda of these institutes.

Inquiry into statistics and open data in Government

And now till September 2013 ‘the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) is conducting an inquiry into statistics and open data in Government, with a focus on the progress of the Government in implementing its Open Data strategy.’

Screenshot-2Questions are (among others):
4. How can those engaged in open data, and those engaged in producing
government statistics work together effectively to produce new data?
6. Is open data presented well and of adequate quality?
a. Are the formats of the data being published accessible, useable and
understandable to the public?
b. What metadata is needed to make releases useful?
c. Who will use the data released?
8. Which datasets are the most important?
a. What are the best examples of data being made open and resultant benefits to business or society?

The above mentioned issues and Questions paper provides a good introduction into the work done in this field.


StatsUserNet  launched in February 2012 by the Royal Statistical Society is part of a more or less institutionalised discussion about official statistics in UK.

statsusernet‘Launched in February 2012 with support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the UK Statistics Authority, it now has over 1,700 members signed up to around 25 communities of interest. Members come from a wide range of sectors, including central and local government, academia, business, the voluntary sector and the general public.

‘StatsUserNet has a number of aims which include:

  • To enable users to exchange information and experience freely on all statistical topics
  • To enable communication between users and producers of official statistics (producers are increasingly announcing their outputs on StatsUserNet and actively seeking feedback)
  • To involve users in the planning process and strategy for official statistics, with the “Consultations” community being used for gathering views on plans for changes to statistical outputs
  • To provide support to wider user activities, including User Groups
  • Increasing awareness of official statistics and their use more widely.

A variety of topic-based communities is already up and running and has hosted discussions on high-profile areas such as inflation measures,national well-being, the Census and health.’


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.’



Evidence-based Decision Making

iPads (or any easily accessible device) with a dashboard application on it become more and more used tools (or Gadgets) for politicians.

Photograph: Andrew Parsons/ZUMA Press/Corbis

No 10 dashboard

David Cameron is (perhaps) looking at the ‘new custom-built “No 10 dashboard” web app’. With a little help from National Statistics ..

‘The app is hosted by the Government Digital Service (GDS) inside the Cabinet Office, and consists of a number of onscreen tiles, each of which can be selected to show more detail. One shows the latest growth figures and the FTSE index; one shows the prime minister’s diary; one shows the content of a number of Twitter feeds, including the official No.10 feed; another shows the insights from a daily poll by the polling group YouGov; another shows property and jobs data supplied by Adzuna, a UK startup that provides inputs about the number of jobs which are then blended with data from the Office for National Statistics.
Another tile shows regional economic data, while a final tile tracks the progress of key government initiatives such as the structural reform plan – the coalition’s scheme to cut the deficit – and compares government spending against budget targets.’
Source: The Guardian  

The dashboard idea is not a new one. Some (of much more) examples:

Statistics Finland …

… provides Findicator.


Ireland ist preparing



In Switzerland

Statistics Switzerland‘s website provides a set of indicators  measuring progress on the road to sustainable development.


In fact,

every Website of a statistical agency is more or less a dashboard for evidence-based decision making. See also OECD, IMF, World Bank



Personal Dashboards

There are also lots of individually configurable Dashboards based on dedicated search. So:

Squirro (Beta, on invitation)

trap!t, the sister company of Siri

etc and so on. Explore yourself!

.Is this a revival and a boost for evidence-based or data-based decision making?


Curious about abbreviations? Here’s (a new) one: Linked Open Government Statistical Data LOGSD.

LOGSD are statistical data official statistics agencies provide in a LOD format for reuse. And such reuse may combine (mash up) statistical LOD with other sources in the LOD Cloud.

For example: ONS

The Office of National Statistics ONS and others in UK are very active in this field. So for better accessing geographical metadata which are essential in presenting statistics:

‘The solution is to use data.gov.uk as a single access point for discovery of geographic data, and to link from there to a geoportal (that is currently in development) where users could download the geographic products online. This goes most of the way to delivering the tools that users need to work with statistical data but there is also an opportunity to go further and provide geographic data as linked data, using the GSS codes that uniquely identify each geography to link the attributes from the different geographic products. Now, instead of a 9 character GSS identifier, each geography is given a URI that allows it to not only be uniquely identified but also makes it available online. We therefore end up with identifiers such as http://statistics.data.gov.uk/id/statistical-geography/E05008305 that only require users to change the GSS code at the end to get to the geographic information that they need.’ http://data.gov.uk/blog/update-from-ons-on-data-interoperability-0


And here an example how LOD and statistical (not yet LOGSD) data could work together. It’s an experimental proof of concept using data from Mercer quality of living survey and Transparency International, enriching these data with more information from DBpedia and calculating correlations that lead to hypotheses about the data.

Heiko Paulheim from Technische Universität Darmstadt made this interesting experiment which illustrates how linking data works. Abstract of Paulheim’s study “Generating Possible Interpretations for Statistics from Linked Open Data’ :

Statistics are very present in our daily lives. Every day, new statistics are published, showing the perceived quality of living in different cities, the corruption index of different countries, and so on. Interpreting those statistics, on the other hand, is a difficult task. Often, statistics collect only very few attributes, and it is difficult to come up with hypotheses that explain, e.g., why the perceived quality of living in one city is higher than in another. In this paper, we introduce Explain-a-LOD, an approach which uses data from Linked Open Data for generating hypotheses that explain statistics. We show an implemented prototype and compare different approaches for generating hypotheses by analyzing the perceived quality of those hypotheses in a user study.’

Open Government Data Benchmark: FR, UK, USA

Finally there’s a very interesting comparison of OGD in three leading countries.

qunb did it . Have a look at this presentation.

1) There are lots of duplicates on OGD platforms


2) There are very few structured data yet



3) Apps are the real challenge

There are different strategies fostering the developmemt of Apps made with open data. The U.K. method seems to be one of the most productive


The presentation in French

OGD events

There’s a lot of activities in the realm of Open Government Data OGD in the past few days.


In Switzerland the second opendata.ch event was held in Zürich on 28 June (agenda and documents in German).

Presentations from Rufus Pollock and Nigel Shadbolt (in English) will be available on opendata.ch.

Zürich used opendata.ch 2012 as a marketing occasion for its eZurich OGD Portal opend the same day. It could become a catalysator for more such portals in Switzerland.


Open Government Data Studie Schweiz

On the same day a comprehensive study about OGD in Switzerland was published with some recommendations:

Handlungsempfehlungen für Politik, Verwaltung und Öffentlichkeit

  1. Politischen Willen für OGD äussern
  2. OGD freigeben und publizieren
  3. OGD nutzen
  4. Umgang mit OGD lernen
  5. Die Wirkung und den Nutzen von OGD empirisch untersuchen
  6. Die Technologie für OGD erforschen und weiterentwickeln
  7. Schlussbemerkung: …. dass wir den “Swiss Way of OGD” postulieren: Nicht (vergeblich) auf das grosse, koordinierte, zentral und top-down geführte Programm warten. Sondern dezentral, föderalistisch und lokal ansetzen, Daten freigeben, Beispiele schaffen, anregen und anstossen und auf die überzeugende Kraft des demonstrierten und erlebten Nutzens von OGD setzen.


And newly published: UK government’s white paper on open data

‘The government’s newly published white paper on open data makes a number of commitments that if carried through will keep the UK at the forefront of a recent and growing open data revolution.’ In these words Nigel Shadbolt announces the new white paper in The Guardian (28 June 2012).

Yearly Re-use Turnover

And one argument in favour of OGD can be heard more and more often: The positive effect of OGD on the economy. Nigel Shadbolt gave some examples in opendata.ch 2012: i.e.  32 billion Euros in the EU countries…

See also the figures from open data Spain:

‘At the national meeting of open data initiatives in Spain new figures were reported on the size and volume of the re-use market in Spain. … that the volume of business activities directly connected to the re-use of public sector information is between 332 and 550 million Euros per year.’

And here’s more of this:


HTML5: Flow map of internal migration in England & Wales

At the start of this year, I wrote a brief post on how we’ve been looking closely at the emergence of HTML5 as a visualisation platform. This week, we’ve published the first fruit of those labours – an interactive flow map of internal migration data for England & Wales:

Migration flowmap of England & Wales

The aim here was to really stretch the technology and give it a tough visualisation challenge to see what it’s capable of. The underlying data used in the map contains over 60,000 migration flows – yet we have still managed to produce an interactive application that will run on an iPhone.

I will aim to write some more details later on the development process and the good and bad experiences of transitioning from a platform like Flash. But the majority of solutions to our problems came from a general realisation that HTML5 doesn’t really exist at all, but is more an amorphous mixture of inter-related technologies and javascript libraries that are becoming increasingly cohesive as a development platform. So – take a bow jQuery and Modernizr – these libraries in particular have really helped us to exploit HTML,SVG,Canvas,CSS, XML and javascript technology in a single, integrated document. There’s a way to go yet, but these initial results are extremely promising.

One other element I’m pleased on with this work is that we went beyond simple visualisation of the flow data here – every time you interact with the map to generate a flow visualisation, the browser performs a test to identify ‘significant’ flows (highlighted in orange, to attract your attention), based on a procedure first suggested in 1977 by Professors Peter Hagget and John Holmes. The speed with which that test is performed is real testimony to the improvements in javascript performance made by web browser developers in recent years. That we are now able to perform near real-time tests on statistical data of this volume in a web browser raises another interesting suggestion – that the key to many exciting visualisation challenges might lie in re-examining the past…

Official Statistics: Identify Common Challenges

In his Blog Director Groves of the US Census Bureau informs about an important discussion among his colleagues (thanks Xavier for this hint):

‘Several weeks ago, at the initiative of Brian Pink, the Australian statistician, leaders of the government statistical agencies from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States held a summit meeting to identify common challenges and share information about current initiatives. ..

… They perceive the same likely future challenges for central government statistical agencies, and they are making similar organizational changes to prepare for the future. …

Ingredients of the future vision:

  1. The volume of data generated outside the government statistical systems is increasing much faster than the volume of data collected by the statistical systems; almost all of these data are digitized in electronic files.
  2. As this occurs, the leaders expect that relative cost, timeliness, and effectiveness of traditional survey and census approaches of the agencies may become less attractive.
  3. Blending together multiple available data sources (administrative and other records) with traditional surveys and censuses (using paper, internet, telephone, face-to-face interviewing) to create high quality, timely statistics that tell a coherent story of economic, social and environmental progress must become a major focus of central government statistical agencies.
  4. This requires efficient record linkage capabilities, the building of master universe frames that act as core infrastructure to the blending of data sources, and the use of modern statistical modeling to combine data sources with highest accuracy.
  5. Agencies will need to develop the analytical and communication capabilities to distill insights from more integrated views of the world and impart a stronger systems view across government and private sector information.
  6. There are growing demands from researchers and policy-related organizations to analyze the micro-data collected by the agencies, to extract more information from the data.

… In short, the five countries are actively inventing a future unlike the past, requiring new ways of thinking and calling for new skills.  The payoff sought is timelier, more trustworthy, and lower cost statistical information measuring new components of the society, economy, and environment, telling a richer story of our countries’ progress. ‘

Read the full blog post here: http://directorsblog.blogs.census.gov/2012/02/02/national-statistical-offices-independent-identical-simultaneous-actions-thousands-of-miles-apart/