V3: Clarity and insight

Statistics and data should be presented clearly, explained meaningfully and provide authoritative insights that serve the public good.


V3.1 Statistics, data and explanatory material should be relevant and presented in a clear, unambiguous way that supports and promotes use by all types of users.

V3.2 Statistics should be accompanied by a clear description of the main statistical messages that explains the relevance and meaning of the statistics in a way that is not materially misleading. They should be illustrated by suitable data visualisations, including charts, maps and tables, where this helps aid appropriate interpretation of the statistics.

V3.3 Comparisons that support the appropriate interpretation of the statistics, including within the UK and internationally, should be provided where useful. Users should be signposted to other related statistics and data sources and the extent of consistency and comparability with these sources should be explained to users.

V3.4 Advice should be given about the appropriate use of the statistics and data. The lead statistician or analyst should be visible and approachable to users, be encouraged to explain the statistics publicly and support their use.

V3.5 Statistics producers should collaborate with experts and producers of related statistics and data to provide a comprehensive and coherent narrative for the statistical topic.

Case studies

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) selected the 2018 winner and first and second runners-up for the Campion Award for Official Statistics. The purpose of the award is to recognise outstanding innovations or developments in official statistics that improve the users’ experience.

  • The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) won for The Future Farming and Environment Evidence Compendium published in February 2018. According to the judging panel, Defra showed excellent use of administrative data with a direct impact on policy and communication with users.
  • The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) received plaudits for Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2017 (NIMDM2017), the official measure of deprivation in Northern Ireland. Judges thought the Measure brings together complex data and presentation at a very local level in a politically-sensitive context
  • The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office (HO) were recognised for their 2017 joint article, What’s happening with international student migration. The judging panel thought this piece of work dealt with a sensitive matter of real public interest and that the statistics both informed the debate and corrected a misunderstanding

All three are excellent examples of statistics that are presented clearly and explained meaningfully.

Defra’s compendium brings together data and statistics from a variety of sources and analysis such as statistical outputs, scientific research, operational research and economics. The output is an impressive effort compiling information from a wide array of sources and distilling that information into a digestible, interesting narrative. The compendium, through data and colourful graphics, demonstrates the importance of farm economics, food production, and environmental land management to help the reader understand UK agriculture and its contribution to the economy.

The newly developed NIMDM 2017 analysis package and online interactive maps provide users with robust insights into deprivation. The analysis package, for example, is simple to use, provides examples of what a user can do with the data and encourages interrogation. Users can break down the data by income, employment, health and disability and other deprivation domains that combine to produce the overall multiple deprivation measure. Other Excel spreadsheets are available for different geographies such as Wards and Assembly Areas.

The ONS/HO article is an update on progress towards developing a better understanding of student migration to and from the UK. The article is a major part of ONS’s work plan, in response to debates on student migration. ONS and Home Office statisticians analysed Home Office Exit Checks data to examine what happens to non-EU students when their visas have expired following their studies; whether they leave the UK or remain by extending their visas. Using new data sources to provide a complete and coherent picture of international student outcomes was one of the requirements of our compliance check of ONS’s long-term student migration estimates. The ONS/HO analysis goes some way towards building that picture – it provides insights into a sensitive political issue that attracts intense public and media interest.

The Defra and NISRA outputs provide clarity and insight by presenting relevant statistics and data in a clear and valuable way that enables use by all types of users. The ONS/HO article makes use of alternative data sources and explains the issues to generate insights into an important topic.

Homelessness is a devolved matter in the UK, with different legislative and policy requirements, so homelessness statistics are produced by each UK country separately and are drawn from administrative data systems.  As such, there are significant differences between the official or government statistics in each country and information about comparability is generally limited. Nevertheless, users are interested in comparing these statistics, specifically comparing regions and cities across the UK or understanding the UK picture of homelessness.

The following quote from the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Plan, published November 2018, helps to highlight why enhanced clarity and insight is needed from the statistics produced on this topic:

“Everyone needs a safe, warm place they can call home. Home is more than a physical place to live. It’s where we feel secure, have roots and a sense of belonging. Home supports our physical and emotional health and wellbeing and to be without one seems unthinkable. Yet for too many people this is their reality as they face the blight of homelessness.”

Harmonisation, the process of increasing comparability and coherence of statistics, is an important enabler of cross UK comparisons, and can help avoid unnecessary confusion and erroneous comparisons. As stated in the Office for Statistics Regulation systemic review on Housing and Planning Statistics, published in November 2017, ‘transparent information about statistical definitions and methods, together with judgements about strengths and limitations, is essential in supporting users’ confidence in statistics’. Homelessness can be highly politicised and attract wide user attention. Therefore, it is important that users understand what is being measured, the extent to which it is comparable with related statistics, and the limitations of the statistics.

The GSS Strategy Delivery Team and GSS Harmonisation Team undertook a collaborative piece of work to address these issues. A cross-GSS Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Statistics Group was created to strengthen links across departments and the devolved administrations, and encourage collaboration.

In February 2019, after extensive stakeholder engagement with government departments, the devolved administrations, academics and third sector organisations, the GSS Harmonisation Team produced a report investigating the feasibility of harmonising UK definitions of homelessness. This report identified the different definitions of homelessness in use across the UK and assessed what can be done to improve the clarity, comparability and transparency of homelessness statistics.

This research concluded that although a general definition for homelessness could be created, developing a harmonised definition that government departments and the devolved administrations could incorporate into their statistics is challenging. The feasibility report was the first step in helping to provide transparency about the comparability of official homelessness statistics across the UK.

In September 2019, following the recommendations of the feasibility report produced earlier in the year, the GSS Harmonisation Team published an interactive tool for UK homelessness statistics to explain the comparability of homelessness statistics in a user-friendly format. This involved collaboration with statistics producers in the four UK countries and a wide array of stakeholders. In addition to this, as part of the wider work on coherence of Housing and Planning statistics, the GSS Strategy Delivery Team published an article bringing together existing homelessness data sources from across the UK to assess comparability, coherence and data limitations and to begin to identify patterns and trends for the UK as a whole. The  article utilised the interactive tool as a framework for making homelessness comparisons and identifying UK trends. The GSS Harmonisation Team are also developing guidance on comparability for the statistical publications, which will help users to better understand the processes and legislation behind the different statistics, and where comparisons can and can’t be made.

This example shows how cross-ONS collaboration between the GSS Harmonisation Team and GSS Strategy Delivery Team is enhancing the clarity and insight provided by UK homelessness statistics. By engaging with the various producers to understand and document the extent of comparability and consistency of the different sources, and developing a UK wide perspective, their work is supporting users in the appropriate interpretation and use of the various homelessness statistics produced across the UK and helping to provide clarity in an area of significant public and policy concern.

Guidance and resources

Answers to questions OSR has received about publishing official statistics in line with the Code. Topics covered include: pre-announcing the release of statistics, labeling the status of the statistics and publishing ad-hoc statistics releases.Regulatory guidance on publishing official statistics and National StatisticsOSR
Guidance that aims to help producers of statistics improve their statistical commentary.Writing about statisticsGSS
A webpage that brings together guidance and resources on communicating statistics.Communicating statistics webpageGSS
This guidance sets out some principles to think about when presenting statistical data.Designing effective tables, graphs and mapsGSS
This guidance provides advice on how to present statistics in spreadsheets and how to publish them online. This guidance is currently under review.Presenting and publishing statistics in spreadsheetsGSS
A webpage with links to a series of guidance documents on harmonisation, including what harmonisation is and its aims, the Harmonisation Handbook and the GSS Harmonised Principles.Harmonisation within the GSS webpageGSS
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) guide on Making Data Meaningful is intended as a practical tool to help managers, statisticians and media relations officers use text, and visualisations to bring statistics to life for non-statisticians. It contains suggestions, guidelines and examples.A UNECE guide to Making Data MeaningfulUNECE