Uncertainty, communication and trust in a data-driven world

28 June 2018


Written by Helen Brooks, NERC-funded CSaP policy intern (March-July 2018)

This session highlighted the importance of effective communication to ensure trustworthiness.

You can listen to the recording here:

The session was chaired by Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter (Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge), who was accompanied by three panel members:

In many areas there is a lack of knowledge-this is known as epistemic uncertainty. For example, while the Bank of England aren’t certain what GDP might be in the future, they also don’t actually know exactly what GDP was in the past or present. It is important that this uncertainty is communicated effectively, as this demonstrates trustworthiness.

As uncertainty is so prevalent in society and research analysis, effective communication is key to being trusted and therefore being taken seriously. Many people believe that statistics can add accurate knowledge to a confusing situation. However, statistics should be communicated with care, and it is often recommended to use simple graphics (which communicate just one message per graphic). The communication platform and audience must also be considered and reflected in the language and graphics used. For example, social media posts should be very visual and geared for a younger audience.

The data and the evidence itself is also vital for trust. Evidence synthesis needs to be inclusive, rigorous, transparent and accessible. The synthesis should also be updated over time, which will allow policies to be revised. Data should be accessible, understandable and assessable (able to work out its robustness).

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