Creating Statistics that Communicate Powerfully

23rd August 2018

One of the many ways the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) supports local authorities throughout Wales is to provide help engaging householders on how to use their recycling services. When the WLGA wanted to review the suite of statistics used in waste and recycling communications in Wales, and to develop a new tool so local authorities could generate their own statistics and empower their citizens to recycle more, it turned to us.

We began by compiling all waste statistics featured on Welsh local authority websites, checking their accuracy using an environmental data modelling exercise. This gave the WLGA confidence to keep on using those statistics found to be truthful, and allowed them to discontinue any statistics discovered to be out-of-date.

The next stage, however, was the truly innovative aspect of this work. The standard form of an engagement statistic is to use some comparator to make an item of data more vivid for the reader, for example: “last year in the UK, we recycled around 3.5 billion aluminium cans, enough to stretch around the world over 10 times.” The WLGA wanted to improve upon the suite of Welsh waste statistics by using comparators that would speak more directly to householders in a personal, national and local context. More than that, it wanted a toolkit that local authorities could use to create bespoke statistics tailored to householders in their areas.

We delivered this by researching and compiling data on items of domestic, local and national interest, such as the length of a 3-seater sofa, the tallest building in Newport and the weight of the Wales national rugby team, alongside environmental and economic comparators such as the amounts of carbon and money saved by recycling. The toolkit (based upon an Excel model) took these comparators and, comparing them against Welsh waste data, generated new and bespoke statistics.

The toolkit allowed users to make selections based on: local authority, material type, waste management option and statistic type. For example, by selecting to view statistics for the weight of food waste recycled through anaerobic digestion in Cardiff, a list of comparator values would be generated, telling the user the equivalent number of family cars, double beds and Welsh Rugby teams (and many other things) by weight.

To ensure that the toolkit used the kinds of comparators most likely to engage householders, we also held a series of focus group sessions involving members of the Cardiff Council Citizens Panel. Different kinds of statistics were presented and the participants consulted about whether or not they thought the statistics would be effective. The results were analysed, and recommendations made to the WLGA to aid them in the use of the toolkit.

The WLGA provided all 22 Welsh local authorities with copies of the toolkit, alongside training in how to use it to improve waste and recycling communications.

Our Specialist Technical Advisor  Emma How said:

“The Wales waste statistics toolkit represented a great resource for all those involved in the creation of communications materials in Wales. It made it easy to generate new, targeted statistics that users could be sure were accurate, with minimal cost and resource.”