Communicating economics to the public
This page collects some advice for economists on communicating their ideas to non-economist audiences. It will be updated with recent articles: to recommend an article, email Martin.
Communicating Economics is regularly updated with interviews and articles about how economists and their ideas can reach the widest audience.
Have you thought of using blogs to reach a wider audience? We have a guide to blogging for economists.
Fact-checking and combatting disinformation is the subject of a separate page.
More Talk, Less Chalk: Communicating Economics in the Modern Classroom by Chris Colvin, describing a first-year undergraduate course on Communicating Economics
Course outlines and programme specifications typically list “communication skills” among the expected learning outcomes of economics degrees. But these skills are almost never addressed formally. [...] I think students additionally benefit from taking a dedicated communication course.
Epistemological break in political economy by Pavel Kuchar and Erwin Dekker, KCL Centre for the Study of Governance & Society
Could it be the case that to communicate economics the economist needs to learn how to better listen instead of becoming more eloquent? If so, the fundamental challenge might be not a better talking down to the "uneducated layman" but rather a translation between different types of knowledge, and the search for convergence between them.
Britons understand little about economics, report finds, Financial Times summarising the ESCOE report
The public’s financial understanding was better in topics that had direct relevance to their daily lives, such as interest rates and inflation, than for more abstract concepts such as gross domestic product or unemployment levels. [...] [T]hey "regret" their inability to distinguish between good and bad uses of data.
Public Understanding of Economics and Economic Statistics, report by Johnny Runge and Nathan Hudson-Sharp, Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence
The research shows that large parts of the UK public have misperceptions about how economic figures, such as the unemployment and inflation rate, are collected and measured, and who they are produced and published by. This sometimes affected participants' subsequent views of the perceived accuracy and reliability of economic statistics.
Short interview with Andy Ross, former Deputy Director of the GES, on the necessity for economists to communicate clearly.
Many voters do not believe economists are impartial, blog post by Alvin Birdi, Ashley Lait and Mark Cliffe for the LSE Brexit blog
The fact that the lack of trust is skewed across political lines underscores both how divisive the EU referendum has been and how the consequences of that division present trust and communications challenges to economists. They need to be extra careful to avoid accusations of political bias in both the tone and substance of their analyses.
"Learn the language of power" by Ha-Joon Chang for the Institute for New Economic Thinking, discussing how the language of economics ought to be more accessible to the public.
Communications as a Policy Tool by Gerry Rice and Olga Stankova for the IMF blog
[E]conomic reforms are more likely to fail or even be reversed unless they are understood, believed, and accepted by those whom they affect. [P]olicymakers face growing pressure to better explain their actions to a broader public and show that they merit support. That means they will have to work harder to make their messages heard, understood, and believed.
Communicating uncertainty about facts, numbers and science, a review article in Royal Society Open Science by van der Bles et al., includes official economic statistics as a case study of the communication of uncertainty to the public.
Morgenstern assessed the accuracy of economic data and argued for the provision of error estimates in official statistics 60 years ago. But [...] economic data continue to be communicated often with little upfront indication of their uncertainties.
Simply is best: enhancing trust and understanding of central banks through better communications, blog post summarising research by Bank of England staff
We find that a new ‘Visual Summary’ of the Inflation Report, which makes use of graphics and simpler language, increases understanding of policy messages. [...] These changes also somewhat increase people’s trust in the information.
Why economists must learn to communicate better, column by Ajit Ranade, Takshashila Institution
Metaphors and memes have much greater longevity than cold and boring economic logic. [...] [E]conomists must learn to match analysis with articulation. Else they will lose the metaphor war.
Economists and Scientists on Twitter: A Tale of Two Styles? 1 min. video clip from the Royal Economic Society.
Marina Della Giusta explains how to communicate economics inclusively on Twitter without dumbing down.
Economics and Journalism: Insights from EconPublic 2min. video clip from the Royal Economic Society.
Tiago Mata talks about the role of economic journalism in public debate.
Interim report of the RSA Citizens' Economic Council by Reema Patel and Kayshani Gibbon
Rethinking the way we engage in dialogue about economics, and broadening the range of voices who are able to participate in that dialogue [...] allows us to harness citizen insight and values about the economic choices we face and to question the extent to which the economy is servicing wider social goals, mission and purpose rather than the other way around.
"What's the Economy": Exploring how people feel about economics and why we need to improve it Report by the charity The Economy
[I]t doesn’t take much to shift someone’s perception of the subject of economics. [P]eople care passionately about where their tax money is going, about their rights to health and education, about their ability to find meaningful work. They want to take an active role in the debate over these issues, but find it impossible to do so when it’s conducted in a language that feels alien, abstract, and expert-dominated.
"Everyday Economics" Andy Haldane
A lack of trust or understanding of finance and the economy can have wider societal costs. Economic mistrust and misunderstanding can spread contagiously across societies. [...] [T]his causes people to seek safety in ways which in fact increase risk, for them individually and for societies collectively. The flames of this epidemiological fire are increasingly being fanned by social media.
"Economicky words are just plain icky" Tim Harford
[W]e might do well by trying to engage people’s sense of curiosity. It is not enough to write with clarity; the great science communicators [...] inspire a sense of wonder. If we use a surprising fact as an ambush, that will provoke a defensive response; far better to present an intriguing puzzle.
"Taking the Society forward" by RES Chief Executive Leighton Chipperfield in the RES Newsletter
The reputation of economics, and economists, emerged as an issue that the Society should seek to address proactively. There was a real consensus that the Society should act as a catalyst for closer and better engagement with the public and the media.
Why and How Should We Communicate Economics? by Bob Denham and Romesh Vaitilingam; guest post for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
We believe that economists – including the younger generation – can and should do more to communicate their analysis and evidence to a wider audience. [...] What’s more, the communication opportunities offered by the internet and social media make it easier than ever to reach readers who will value your insights.
Economics: The Profession and the Public; event report by Alvin Birdi
Respondents expressed strongly that economics is important not just for a better understanding of personal finance but also to enable more informed choices during elections. Coupled with this sense of the subject’s importance was a desire to learn more and to embed economics within general school education.