Let’s talk about stats baby, let’s talk about GDP

So, GDP. Gross Domestic Product. That quarterly estimate of the health of our economy, which – if it goes the wrong way – can have those in the corridors of power standing to attention like a mob of meerkats.

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GDP is a big deal here at ONS Towers, but how much do people know about it outside of these hallowed walls?

I went onto the streets of Newport to quiz some shoppers and the results were unsurprising, certainly to me, anyway. From a random (not statistically significant) selection of six people, only one could correctly identify what GDP stood for and what the term actually meant.

There were many puzzled expressions and a few wild theories about what GDP could be…

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Which brings us to #GDPweek as the topic for my inaugural digital blog entry. It’s Visual.ONS’s quest to bring meaning and relevance to the statistical terms we use every day.

We are working on a package of content that –we hope – will allow people to understand more about GDP and how it’s relevant to their everyday lives.

Visual’s target audience is the inquiring citizen; someone who is interested in newsworthy topics, written in plain English, presented in a visually engaging way.

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When I think of how to tackle a topic for this readership, I try and imagine how I would explain it to my mum. Or you could describe the inquiring citizen as somewhere in between a Guardian and a Daily Mail reader.

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From our encounter with the citizens of Newport, it was clear that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever GDP (to paraphrase the poet Rupert Brooke), but it’s not often-visited.

We needed to make GDP relatable to the everyday life of our target readership. Why should they care about GDP? Why is it relevant to them?

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The consensus about creating online content is that it should be packaged in the format which best suits the readership and on the platforms that they use – we go where they are.

We can no longer expect people to wade through reams of paragraphs. We should start simply and provide sign-posts to further, more in depth information. There’s often been the perception that using plain English and data visualisation is dumbing-down. I disagree.

People have different ways of understanding information, they are also time-poor and have many more distractions in their lives. Providing content in a clear way, which also signposts to further, more in-depth information, it could be argued – is just another form of offering a précis.

So, we looked at how to make GDP more personal, without compromising statistical rigour or accurate terminology.

We are hoping to roll out four or five pieces of content on GDP towards the end of November, followed by a twitter Q and A of GDP experts. Ambitious stuff. I’ll keep my own counsel on what format that content will take at the moment. But stay tuned for more updates and more about data and digital journalism at ONS.

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