Communicating statistics: Not just true but also fair - Public Administration Committee Contents


A good evidence base should underpin all public policy. Across Government, robust statistics are essential to drawing up that evidence base. Public trust in the integrity of government policy will be more likely if the public understand the evidence base and the statistics used. Communicating statistics effectively is therefore an important way for the Government to uphold its accountability to the public and to ensure transparency in what it does.

However, finding government statistics is not easy. Both expert users and occasional users struggle to navigate their way through the multiple places in which statistics are published. In particular, the website of the Office for National Statistics must be improved. As well as being hard to find, statistics are often presented in a confusing way, for example, in formats which are not easily understandable. Government statisticians should work much more closely with different kinds of users in order to present statistics in ways which meet their different needs.

Government statisticians have an important role to play in explaining statistics as clearly and helpfully as possible. In some cases, the story behind the statistics is reduced in its presentation to such an extent that the picture is no longer true and fair. Government statisticians could do a lot more to explain statistics clearly.

In addition to the many routinely-produced statistics, government statisticians produce thousands of pieces of data on demand, known as "ad hoc statistics". Whilst we welcome this openness, more of this kind of data should be published proactively, rather than simply in reaction to requests, and greater transparency around the process for ad hoc requests is needed.

An important part of the role of the UK Statistics Authority is to monitor the use and abuse of official statistics. Where the Chair of the Statistics Authority judges that there has been misuse of official statistics, we support his independence and his right to intervene.

We welcome efforts being made by the UK Statistics Authority, the Office for National Statistics and government statisticians to communicate statistics better, for example, through more media appearances, bringing together statistics on the ONS's website on key themes like "population" and creating user-friendly ways to present statistics such as interactive guides. However, wider and deeper improvements are still needed to the presentation and explanation of government statistics if public trust in them, and therefore in public policy, is to be earned and kept.

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 29 May 2013