My secondment at the BBC during the General Election

Louise Foster-Key

I worked at BBC News at the end of 2019 and it was an incredible experience. There are a number of different ways you can contribute to their work and the experienced and talented Head of Statistics there is able to tailor your experience there so you can make the most of your time. For example, you can work closely with the Visual Journalism Team which is essentially a first-class team of data scientists who work at pace.  Or you can work with the highly regarded Reality Check Team and concentrate on fact checking and explainers.

My stint with the BBC had the small matter of the General Election taking place in the middle of it and as you can imagine this pushed my ability to work accurately and impartially, at pace, with conflicting information and claims, to the maximum! One of the highlights of my secondment was helping out in live fact checking of General Election debates and ‘Question Times’, knowing that my audience was huge and hungry for clear information.

I am also proud of the work I did in the development and production of a new type of product for BBC News, an in-depth briefing pack on immigration. This really made me ensure that I was using the best available information, and required me to communicate uncertainty and quality issues around some high-profile official statistics. Something I have taken back to the office with me is a better appreciation of how little time inexpert users usually have to digest information and so you have to put in real effort to simplify key messages with as little jargon as possible.

My statistical product now has a vocabulary section in the notes which covers not just technical jargon but even some basic fundamental concepts which I now realise might not be understood by a non-expert coming across my statistics for the first time.

BBC News is a great place to see one type of customer – the press, which has to process huge amounts of information in short amounts of time, and which really appreciates whatever you can do to make their work run more smoothly – but also is a place to appreciate better the experiences of the general public, who after all tend to rely on the press to receive and hear about our work.  Shadowing the teams working on some of the most important and influential news programmes in the country, such as the Today Programme, the six and 10 o’clock News, you can appreciate the work that goes into distilling complex stories into digestible but engaging packages.

The better insight into how our products are consumed and understood has helped me make my work more digestible. It has also made me more confident in coming up with analysis much more quickly and being able to get to the heart of a dataset and bring out the absolute key messages. This has helped me to have much more impact in the office.

You can now apply to work at the BBC for a three-month placement between April and June 2021. The deadline for applications in 19 January 2021.

Sumit Rahman
Louise Foster-Key
Sumit has been in the GSS since 2007. He has worked at the Office for National Statistics (in National Accounts and in Methodology), the Cabinet Office (a policy role in the Statistical Reform Team), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (a number of roles, including running the Longitudinal Small Business Survey) and a few short stints here and there as well. 
Sumit is currently in the coronavirus COVID-19 Taskforce, in the Cabinet Office, where he works in the Data Science Team with colleagues from several analytical professions.