skip to primary navigation skip to content

Resources for civil servants and government officials

Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication

Resources - Resources for civil servants and government officials

The UK government has consistently produced excellent resources on how best to deal with risk and evidence within the civil service and policy worlds, and yet the inevitable changes in government and staff mean that these excellent sources of advice are often lost within a short number of years.

Here we have collated a number of useful resources with the hope that they can be used by those who need them.

The guides listed below make many recommendations for engagement and two-way communication. Much of their discussion concerns risk assessments where there is reasonable understanding and agreement about the possible outcomes and their likelihoods. There is limited coverage of situations of deeper uncertainty, where lack of knowledge or disagreement means there is a reluctance to quantify how likely different scenarios are, or even specify what could happen.

The guides are generally weak on:

  1. Suggestions for communicating quantitative risks using language, numbers and graphics
  2. Discussing both internal and external communication

For these see our list of general recommended reading

(The lack of information on communicating uncertainty has now been rectified by the new Home Office-produced guide, below)

Many of these guides, but not all are covered in para 114 of Scientific advice and evidence in emergencies - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Evidence communication ticklist from the Winton Centre, 2021

Our own guide to help communicators thinking through how to communicate a piece of evidence.

Uncertainty toolkit for analysts in government from the Home Office, 2020

An excellent new guide that fills the gap in previous guides and covers uncertainty and uncertainty communication in a nice web format which allows it to remain up to date.

Communicating quality, uncertainty and change: Guidance for producers of official statistics from the Government Statistical Service, 2019

Offers a very clear set of examples illustrating best practice in communicating statistics including points about the quality of the evidence, ways of communicating uncertainty around a statistic in both verbal and visual forms.

Communicating Risk from Defra's Science Advisory Council - Social Science Expert Group (SSEG) Task Group, 2017

Includes discussion of:

  • ‘one-way’ modes of public information, appropriate to providing clear instruction in ‘emergency’ situations and ‘two-way’ modes of public engagement appropriate to the equally vital task of building public trust in risk management decision-making longer term.
  • The Four steps to go through for a two-way risk communications strategy
  • Lessons and tactics for better risk communication as summarised below:

1) Think carefully about the audience for any communication and do not address 'the public' as an undifferentiated aggregate of individuals

2) Avoid implying that target audiences are ignorant and simply require 'education'

3) Make data informing risk estimations public and, where possible, involve them in data collection through 'citizen science' opportunities

4) Provide an early explanation of the logic and structure of the central tenets and argument of any communication

5) Don't over-claim

6) Express estimations of the likelihood of events in intuitive, consistent and unambiguous ways

7) Make assumptions, uncertainties and levels of confidence in the estimations transparent

8) Take particular care with specialist terminologies that include words with a different meaning in everyday parlance

Appraisal and Evaluation in Central Government, the HM Treasury Green Book, 2013

Discusses risk assessment and management with regard to project evaluation, including dealing with optimism bias and so on.

A practical guide to public risk communication from the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council, 2009

The five essentials of public risk communication are:

  • Assembling the evidence – demonstrate you have a credible basis for your position;
  • Acknowledgement of public perspectives – understand how those affected understand the risk
  • Analysis of options – consider a broad range of options and the associated trade-offs;
  • Authority taking charge – define the nature of your involvement with the risk;
  • Interacting with the audience – identify the audiences and the appropriate methods for communicating with them.

Managing risks to the public: appraisal guidance from HM Treasury, 2005

An annex to the Green Book, outlines five key principles applying to the handling of all types of risks to the public:

  1. openness and transparency - Government will be open and transparent about its understanding of the nature of risks to the public and about the process it is following in handling them
  2. Involvement - Government will seek wide involvement of those concerned in the decision process;
  3. Proportionality and consistency - Government will act proportionately and consistently in dealing with risks to the public;
  4. Evidence - Government will seek to base decisions on all relevant evidence; and
  5. Responsibility - Government will seek to allocate responsibility for managing risks to those best placed to control them.

Management of Risk - Principles and Concepts, the HM Treasury Orange book, 2004

Provides a basic introduction to the concepts, development and implementation of risk management processes in government organisations, including risk matrices and risk appetite.

Communicating risk guidance from HM Treasury and the Government Information and Communication Service, 2003

A detailed toolkit, with much on stakeholder engagement, but not much on what to do if you are uncertain what the risks are.

Risk: Improving government’s capability of improving handling of risk and uncertainty from the Cabinet Office's Strategy Unit, 2002

On risk communication, this says there is a need for:

  • building public confidence in the basis of decisions made by government about risks;
  • more transparency about decisions so that they demonstrate a clear grounding in evidence;
  • decisions that better reflect public values and concerns; and
  • providing enough information to allow individuals to make balanced judgements.

And government communication needs to become:

  • more open, particularly in cases of uncertainty;
  • more transparent about the processes it has used to reach its decisions; and
  • more participative, by involving stakeholders and the wider public at an earlier stage in the decision process.

Risk Communication: a guide to regulatory practice from ILGRA, 1998

  1. Integrate risk communication and risk regulation
  2. Listen to stakeholders
  3. Tailor the messages: empathy, concern, commitment and benefit (articulate pros and cons)
  4. Manage the process

Communicating about risks to public health - pointers to good practice from the Department of Health, 1997

  • Identifies ‘fright factors’ and ‘media triggers’
  • Includes ‘acknowledge uncertainties in scientific assessments’
  • Risk comparisons should reflect actual choices – don't compare, say, voluntary and involuntary risks