Statistics are all around us. All the more since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Rarely do we see a news story, political debate, press conference or even a social media debate that doesn’t reference statistics. In this environment, the custodians of the figures—the national statistical offices (NSOs) which produce, curate and publish official statistics—have an unparalleled role to play in communicating with their users.
The new Strategic Communication Framework for Statistical Institutions serves as a guide to help them navigate the changing demands of this role.
Statistical communication is about more than writing press releases or answering user questions and requests. NSOs need a modern, proactive communication strategy with clearly defined key messages, and must use different channels to reach various target audiences. This may seem obvious, but it is a relatively new concept for many NSOs, which have traditionally focused their efforts and resources on dissemination—publishing their figures in tables, databases and sometimes analytical reports and leaving users to get on with the task of finding what they need, processing it and making sense of it. Dissemination has often been designed principally for expert users who know what they are looking for and how to interpret it.
Increasingly, though, NSOs are embracing the idea that their ‘target audience’ includes all types of users, or even non-users, and that two-way communication with citizens and improving statistical literacy fall within their remit.
With this in mind, the High-Level Group for the Modernization of Official Statistics (HLG-MOS), a group of chief statisticians reporting to UNECE’s Conference of European Statisticians (CES), decided back in 2018 to make strategic communication a key priority. They launched a project to develop a common framework that can serve as a guide for individual NSOs as they rethink their approaches to communicating with data users and with the public. The resulting framework, developed by a group of experts from 11 countries - Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom and the United States - plus OECD and Eurostat and endorsed by CES, highlights examples of success and lessons learned from countries in a range of aspects of communication: rebranding in Canada and Poland; issue and risk management in Australia; and crisis communications in the United States of America.
The framework is designed to give NSOs the tools they need to build communication into their overall corporate strategy, helping to increase their visibility, relevance, and brand recognition. It covers the full range of communications considerations for NSOs, with recommendations on such elements as conducting stakeholder engagement, evaluating external communications, building a mission and vision, and enhancing communication with employees.
The framework offers guidance not only on communicating statistical information but also on communicating about values, purpose and the unique role of official statistics within the broader statistical landscape. The need for this has been highlighted during the pandemic, as producers of official statistics have demonstrated and defended the importance of making trustworthy, politically independent, rapid and comparable figures available for policymakers in response to ever-changing demand.
An evolving collection of case studies, published alongside the framework and still growing as countries’ experiences continue to be shared, demonstrates how NSOs have communicated with their users during the COVID-19 crisis—both about the impact of the pandemic on their operations and with tailored statistical communications about the pandemic itself.
The work will not end here. An HLG-MOS Task Team devoted to Capability and Communication is now extending the Framework, developing practical guidelines, examples and tools for managing crises and for brand management.