02: The role of data in Regrexit

Episode 2 of our Small Data Forum podcast focuses on the role and use of data in the campaigning for the EU referendum in the UK.

Neville Hobson, Sam Knowles and Thomas Stoeckle discuss the outcome of Brexit and Regrexit (the so-called buyers’ remorse of some leave voters, following an immediate change in the argument and presentation of facts, as well as data evidence of negative effects on currency, share prices etc.).

Ranging from failed predictions and misinformation, to the need for more learning and education related to data, to the use of data visualization and linguistic analyses and Bayesian statistics to segment audiences and identify archetypes, the conversation focuses on how data can and must become the solution rather than the problem.


Facts played a key role on both sides of the argument in the EU referendum. The effect of the way facts were presented and consumed on the end outcome is not yet fully understood. It is clear that professional informed predictions – both by pollsters, and bookmakers – failed to get it right. And not for the first time.

Why have we not gotten better at forecasting the results of public votes? Data allows us to drill deep into the wide and nuanced spectrum of opinions.  And yet the question asked in the EU referendum was a binary one, addressing the two tribes of Leavers and Remainers. In understanding the makeup of the electorate, perhaps the wrong questions were being asked, and thus the wrong conclusions drawn.

The Brexit story is one of polarized arguments and of echo effects in the traditional media and social media. Experts and counter-experts presented confusing, contradictory evidence. Information and data became politicized to an extent where it was no longer possible to separate fact from fiction. Truth, and trust in the messengers and their data, suffered.

Perhaps this will act as a learning experience. Big and small data will continue to enrich PR and communications when it is blended and applied in a way that helps understand audiences better.

Communicators are still learning how to understand and leverage data. If PR and communications is both an art and a science, then the science part requires more education and learning. The key to its successful future lies in the combination of data, visualization and storytelling. We have masterminds to aspire to be like data-storytelling TED stars Hans Rosling and David McCandless. We can all get better at the visual presentation of data in order to reduce the complexity of issues. Data and visualization together will create stories that are better because they inform and resonate.

Here are a few of my learnings and recommendations for successful data-led communication:

  • Have a strategy that uses data at every stage
  • Turn Big Data in to small chunks of relevant data
  • Observe and understand the full spectrum of opinions
  • Connect the dots of voices, environments and trends for a complete picture
  • Visualize it to simplify it

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