teaching statistics to meet the needs of policy makers
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Teaching statistics to meet the needs of policy makers. Marion Campbell. Background. Teaching statistics is a means to an end The end aim … to interpret data accurately and meaningfully to make inferences about the greater population

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  • Teaching statistics is a means to an end
  • The end aim …
      • to interpret data accurately and meaningfully to make inferences
        • about the greater population
  • Often the end user is a decision-maker – who has to make decisions on behalf of themselves/wider population
  • As such … in addition to teaching the skills of doing statistics, we need to teach the skills of communicating statistics
who are the decision makers
Who are the ‘decision makers’?

Policy makers

Public & patients

Health service


Clinicians & health


policy makers
Policy makers
  • Macro-level questions
  • What types of services should be provided in the NHS?
  • Should the NHS fund particular types of drugs/treatments?
  • … what would be the impact of those decisions on the health & wealth of the nation?
  • Societal perspective
health service managers
Health service managers

Issues of …

  • Local priorities and needs
  • Cost-effectiveness of specific healthcare treatments
  • How should services be delivered locally?
  • How can the organisation be most efficient?
health professionals
Health professionals
  • Questions about clinical effectiveness …
  • Which treatments have the best outcomes for my patients?
  • Eg Which procedure is better for knee replacement?
  • Questions about the patient journey & treatment choices …
  • How long should I expect my recovery to take?
  • What are the risks to undertaking different treatments?

Communicating with policy makers

  • Policy makers and scientists (incl statisticians) are different
  • Policy makers have a different agenda
  • They have many conflicting sources of advice
  • They are non-specialists
  • They are busy
  • They have different timescales

Differences: academia and policy

Source: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/02/11/policy-world-versus-academia/


The concept of evidence

  • Differs between academics and policymakers
  • Academics:
    • ‘evidence’ = academic research findings, RCTs, novel methods
  • Policy-makers: often use and value other types of evidence:
    • public opinion,
    • political feasibility
    • knowledge of local contexts

Engaging policy makers

  • Research evidence is most likely to be used by policy-makers when it meets the following needs:
  • Relevant - addresses questions of interest to policy-makers
  • Accessible- can be easily found and understood by policy-makers
  • Immediate - evidence is provided in a timely manner for current problems
  • Useful - information provides solutions to problems
  • Quality - information is credible and scientifically rigorous
  • Collaborative - early and sustained engagement with policy-makers will increase their understanding of the research and their confidence in using it
  • Targeted - identifies a specific audience and key messages

The John Lavis model

  • Paragraph:
  • Why is the issue important?
  • What does the research tell us about the issue?
  • To what extent does current decision-making differ from optimal decision-making?
  • Who should act and what should be done?
  • Headline:
  • Short & catchy
  • Retain essence of overall message



Sentence (have 2 versions):

Highlight the research evidence

Highlight the implications for policy

  • Full report:
  • Expand on paragraph points
  • Full references

The 1:3:25 model

  • One pager:
  • Main messages
  • The “so what” not just the “what”
  • Three pager:
  • Condensed version of findings
  • More like newspaper rather than academic abstract



  • 25 pager:
  • Plain language
  • Anecdotes to convey messages
  • Cover 7 categories

Seven sections for 25 pager

  • Context
  • Implications
  • Approach
  • Results
  • Additional resources
  • Further research
  • References & bibliography

So what else helps?

  • Foster relationship with key policy makers to understand their needs – then target message
  • Delivery should be in interactive forum if possible
  • Focus on implications rather than information
  • Policymaker more likely to act on research evidence if packaged as an actionable message

Words of wisdom

“Lay the fundamentals bare, make the logic clear and get rid of the jargon”

UK Government Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport


A rallying call!

  • Speak up!
    • Communicate your science. If you don’t, it’s as good as non-existent. Making science just for yourself does little good.
  • Stand up!
    • Make yourself heard. Meet people. Introduce them to yourself and the work you do. Be proud of achievements. Modesty in moderation!
  • Gang up!
    • Consensus is important. Even if it exists at moderate levels, build on it. It makes the scientist’ voice stronger in the eyes of the outside community.

Anne Glover

Chief Scientific Adviser to the EU


Useful references

  • www.researchtopolicy.ca
  • Canadian Institute for Health Information. You say ‘to-may-to(e)’ and I say ‘to-mah-to(e)’” Bridging the Communications Gap Between Researchers and Policy-Makers. CIHI, 2004
  • Canadian Health Services Research Foundation.“Reader-Friendly Writing—1:3:25,” Communication Notes (2001) ww.chsrf.ca/knowledge_transfer/pdf/cn-1325_e.pdf
  • Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. Communicating with policymakers - Presenting information to policymakers. www.fao.org
contact details
Contact details

Marion Campbell, HSRU, University of Aberdeen

[email protected]