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Dissemination

This chapter presents information on the different information types in our reporting products, and how we determine key findings and reach conclusions. We explain the process for releasing reports along with information on revising information.

Navigating environmental reporting products

With a range of customers with different information needs, we produce several products to meet these needs. Table 5 shows the different types of information we have included in already published products, why we include it, and which product contains that information. As part of continually improving our strategy and products, these are likely to evolve over time.

Table 5
Information included in environmental reporting products

 Item  Why we include this information  Where to find it
 High-level summaries  Enable products to be understood by general readers  At a glance
 Main and additional quantitative findings; analysis over time or geography  Enable products to be understood by more technical readers  Indicator webpage
 Raw data  Progress towards meeting requirements under the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework  Data service
 Discovery metadata  Provide transparency in data availability using Dublin Core principles  Data service
 Context of the results; explanation of findings  Enable products to be understood by general readers (see Customer focus principles)  Body of report
 Methodology description; comparisons against best practice principles and protocols; description of limitations; data quality information  Adhere to Principles and Protocols for Producers of Tier 1 Statistics, and United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics; Environment Reporting Act section14(3)

 Indicator webpages

Data service

 Information on revisions to time series, and comparability with previous reports  Comply with Environment Reporting Act sections 11(2)(a) and 8(2)(a)  Data service (data quality metadata)
 Comparisons with national and international standards  Comply with Environment Reporting Act sections 11(2)(b) and 8(2)(b)  Report and indicator webpages as appropriate, Data service (data quality metadata)
 Measures relating to pressures, states, and impacts  Apply Act sections 8(1) and 11(1)  Indicator webpages
 Source: Stats NZ

Determining key findings

‘Key findings’ convey the main relevant, environmentally meaningful, and statistically robust, results from an environment report. They are presented as a bulleted list of findings at the front of a report. They also inform the infographic.

By selecting findings as ‘key’, we describe what MfE and Stats NZ judge as the most important messages or outcomes from our work. Key findings may include: national indicators, case studies or supporting information (provided important caveats are also explained), and other relevant and reliable information.

  • Statistical considerations
    • Are the data of sufficient quality to justify reporting them?
    • Can the data be explained succinctly without a risk of misinterpretation?
  • Environmental considerations
    • Precautionary principle and irreversibility (ie are there high consequences of not managing the issue, such as extinction risk?)
    • Is it relevant to the wider domain (eg does it integrate effects of other states, or pressures) or other domains?
  • Social considerations
    • Is there likely to be high public interest?
    • Is it relevant to a national value (eg ecologically or culturally)?
    • Is it fresh or new information not reported by MfE or Stats NZ before?

An important feature for key findings is that they are presented impartially (ie without emotive language), a requirement set out in Principle 1 of the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. Doing this reflects the independence of the report and the aim to provide environmental information that meets customer needs.

 Impartiality in practice

In presenting trends in environmental measures, we use terms such as ‘improving’ or ‘declining’. ‘Degraded’ invokes assumptions about the ecological significance of the trend, which may be difficult to assess.

Similarly ‘poorer’ or ‘better’ are useful to describe relativities in environmental states, but ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (without reference to a guideline that explicitly uses such terms) provides a bias to the findings.

Impartiality also implies the data and other reliable evidence drive the empirical story. The conceptual story can be determined without reference to the direction of change (eg climate change has implications for the marine environment), but only when the results are analysed can we understand the environmental impact. This means we do not make assumptions about the direction and magnitude of findings in advance, and the story presented reflects only information that can be supported by robust statistical measures or other reliable scientific information.

 

 Good practice

The rationale for selecting key findings should be clear and transparent, and presented impartially. Key findings highlight the most important messages from an environmental report that are supported by robust evidence.

Reaching conclusions

A key challenge for environmental reporting is to distil information from several measures into simple summary messages that relate to the overall state of the environment, or pressures on it and impacts from changes in it.

In summarising the overall state of the domain and how this is changing over time, we use all information reported on. The information needs to be summarised in a reliable in transparent manner. In future, we may be able to include consensus ratings, similar to those used in Australia’s Department of the Environment’s State of Environment 2011 report, to summarise the state of the domain. We will explore this further, but such methods may require time to develop for each domain and the New Zealand context.

Release protocols

The principle of equal access at first release applies to environmental reporting. We use this principle in disseminating Tier 1 statistics.

See Principles and Protocols for Producers of Official Statistics.

Tier 1 statistics are included in the reports and therefore this principle applies to the release of some of the content of the reports. This release principle means that no individual or organisation has an advantage in knowing the findings of the report before any other.

Embargoed pre-release meetings allow our key stakeholders to access the report ahead of time but prohibit any release of information before publication. The time at which they occur before the public release can vary depending on the complexity and length of the report.

Section 17 of the Act and the release of information

The Environmental Reporting Act 2015 includes a provision for ensuring the data used for environmental reporting are not provided to any particular individual or organisation before publication, to avoid any undue advantages. Section 17 comes into effect once quality assurance begins, and continues through to analysis and dissemination. During these production phases, environmental data is being tested, analysed, put in context, and reviewed for robustness. Peer reviewers have access to results before release but must complete confidentiality agreements that prohibit the findings being shared.

Releasing information during these stages would compromise the integrity of the report overall. If there is an external desire for the information to be released earlier, a formal application process exists. The Government Statistician, under section 17, has sole discretion on whether to release the information before the publicised publication date. Once the report is published, all data, statistics, and findings that contributed to the report can be released.

There is one exception. Section 17 also protects respondents’ confidentiality. Although environmental data is generally not collected from people or individual businesses, our developing measures of social and economic impacts may necessitate using unit record data. Protecting the confidentiality of respondents is a core requirement of national statistical offices, as outlined in principle 6 of the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.

Section 17 does not affect the ability of data providers to analyse or disseminate their data for their own purposes (eg regional council reporting). Where data not previously released (eg using a new methodology) is procured specifically for environmental reporting then section 17 is likely to apply.

Revisions policy

Sections 11(2) (a) and 8(2)(a) of the Act require that each report must describe “changes to the state of the domain over time, including, if information in the report is able to be compared with that in a previous domain report, changes to the state of the domain since that previous report was published.”

Summary information on revisions is included in environmental reports, with more detail available on indicator webpages and in the Data Service. Revisions can arise from introducing new methods and data; we expect revisions over time with improvements in quality.

We publish ‘corrections’ in an environmental report after we investigate the magnitude, significance, and source of the error. Corrections are distinct from revisions and refer to inaccuracies from interpretation or calculation.

Evaluation

The value of data is realised when it is used. Evaluating whether environmental reporting products are meeting customer needs is therefore essential. Feedback on environmental reports can be gathered through approaches such as focus groups, web-based surveys, or online analytical tools. This feedback promotes continual improvement of environmental reporting products and enhances the value of environmental data.

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