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Reaching out to greater audiences

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Jamie Jenkins, chair of the PDC Symposium organising committee gives his reflections on the recent event in London

On Friday June 30th I hosted our annual GSS Presentation and Dissemination Symposium which brings together the statistical community to learn from each but more importantly be challenged to continue to improve.

I set out that there is no point collecting the vast amount of data we have if we do not tell those who make important decisions what the evidence is saying. Many they see a publication as the end of the line but for me it is when we start to engage policy makers and the public which what the data means.

We had Frank Field MP give our opening address and he talked of the great GSS work in helping him get a greater understanding of the importance of apprenticeships. Working with ONS he presented evidence to the Secretary of State and subsequently there have been huge movements in policy in this area. A take home message is to work with people with influence to present your evidence as it will bring better results. He also stressed the importance of looking at the whole data as averages hide lots within the evidence. He also set a challenge for the GSS to do more on measuring destitution, an area he is passionate about.

Next up Sir David Norgrove gave his early impressions as chair of the UKSA. He explained he had been a long term user of statistics as both chair of the Low Pay Commission and at the Pensions Regulator and if you do not measure things you cannot do anything about it. There were exciting times ahead as departments came together to present a coherent story and he gave an example of DWP and DfE working together for better outcomes. His priorities are to improve trust, get us to be more outward looking and improve presentation.

John Pullinger challenged us to embrace radical change as we are sitting on the verge of a data revolution.  He cited a great example from Defra in response to the floods last year where a real time response using data enabled the emergency services to go to the right places.  He said that leaders across the Civil Service and beyond are desperate to know what is going on so shout from the rooftop what you know and encouraged people to sit on the other side of the street by becoming a user of our services through secondments.

There were many excellent parallel sessions where staff from across different departments presented their excellent work to continue to improve how we communicate our messages. I was impressed with how HMRC and DWP have been using data visualisation tools internally in response to what policy customers want. It was great to see those starting out on their visualisation journey learning some tips in Excel and that some of the outputs from data science and how to use Leaflet shone through. We also learnt more about Social Media beyond Twitter and how to communicate to ministers and the general public.

To end the day we had a showcase of what the BBC and Channel 4 had been doing in this space and they both stressed the importance of making our data accessible. Amanda at the BBC explained how they had been doing their own data investigations and how simple numbers can have huge impact. Patrick from Channel 4 thanked the GSS for all their work and showed how video was becoming more and more important in explaining their messages.

It was a great day all round and I would also like to mention the session we had on different users. Too often we think one output can serve everyone but think of how a commercial business works. They will modify their offer depending on what their audience or consumer needs and we need to do the same.

I would also like to give a special mention to the organising team of Rosie, Hiren, Sarah, Nick, Bethan, Amanda, Matthew and Katie. They worked with me over many months to make sure the event happened. In a few weeks (Monday July 24th) the highlights and some more parallel sessions will be shared in Leeds so please do come along if you want to learn more and could not make London.

Finally, we always want those who are passionate about improving presentation and dissemination to be part of our core group within the GSS to deliver this. If you would like to be more involved then get in touch.

Jamie