Using data to  bridge
the gap in a divided society

Data-haters have a point

It's increasingly difficult to deny that the [mis]use of statistics has contributed to the divide in many modern, developed societies

Summary statistics rarely describe somebody's lived experience and never ring true for the whole population

When a summary statistic does not apply to you...

At best, it feels irrelevant

At worst, it actively reminds you that you're on the "losing" side of society

In their worst, most top-down form, statistics are un-democratic. They are a pronouncement from on high that the people should act and feel in accordance with an intangible number, even if that number and its implications are a world away from what they experience every day

So how can data and statistics not only find their feet again, but play a key role in bridging the gap they have helped create?

Anscombe's quartet is not just a nerd's party trick, it highlights a very real problem

Income levels in the UK

In April 2016, median gross weekly earnings for full-time employees were £539

In April 2016, median gross weekly earnings for full-time employees were £539

We can do better than that, and it's important that we do better than that

Taking account of housing costs

Do you earn the same amount as someone hundreds of miles away?

Break it down by region

How about someone the other side of town?

We can still do better

Guidelines for using statistics to serve society

Show the full distribution wherever possible, as this demonstrates the full range of circumstances experienced by different people, which in turn:

  1. Ensures that the people represented by that data feel truly represented
  2. Often highlights the real story that was obscured by the summary statistics
  3. Confronts the importance of relative standing

Try to use metrics that are truly meaningful for your audience

Be empathetic in your use — and interpretation — of statistics

Think about the local context

Don't stop at the simple answer: dig deeper than summary statistics. Sometimes it's only at this stage that the answer reveals itself

Any questions?

You can reach me on Twitter @jburnmurdoch or by email at

These slides are at