While the ABS has long engaged with partners and stakeholders in order to maximise the quality and utility of its data, the creation of the position of Chief Economist has enabled a new, more effective way to build engagement and trust with key journalists and stakeholders.
When Bruce Hockman, previously head of the ABS’s Macroeconomic Statistics Division, was appointed as Chief Economist in June 2017, he set to work maximising his mandate for outreach. “Overnight, I went from having 300 staff to just one staff member, but 900 people I could call upon”, Hockman said.
In October and November of 2017, the Chief Economist undertook a series of in-person meetings with members of the media, continuing to be accessible as a source of understanding. Initial outreach efforts involved interacting with influential economic journalists in support of the Household Expenditure Survey, Labour Accounts, and the annual reweighting of the CPI.
“We want the Australian public to understand our statistics and use them in an informed way, and working proactively with the media helps us to connect with the public. Building relationships with media commentators is not about eliminating the possibility that the ABS will be criticised. It’s about enabling informed critique, and a robust, mature organisation like the ABS is able to accept that”, Hockman said.
While building long-term relationships takes time, the results of the Chief Economist’s efforts have been significant. Prominent, informed media coverage has followed each of the outreach efforts. Feedback has been positive from the media commentators.
Eryk Bagshaw, economics reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, is one of the many journalists who have benefited from the ABS’s efforts to engage. “It’s been great engaging with Bruce Hockman more regularly”, Bagshaw said. “His insights have driven our coverage on the key economic indicators, and given us invaluable background to ensure that our coverage is fair and accurate”.
The role of Chief Economist is emblematic of a fundamental and ongoing shift in the way that the ABS engages externally. The Chief Economist will continue to proactively support upcoming releases of economic data so that the community knows what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how it can be used. This initiative is part of an organisation-wide effort to improve the quality of our stakeholder engagement, further enhance the awareness, coverage and use of ABS statistical information and insights across a wide range of users.