Clarity in a character-limited culture
Confounding factors and perspective have huge relevance to health policy. In much of the work we do, gaps in individuals’ health literacy may account for misinterpretation of the benefits and risks of given interventions. Statistics – particularly economic statistics – are often reported out of context. They may hit the headlines, but there is little understanding as to where they came from or whether they can be extrapolated to other contexts.
At HPP, we pride ourselves on accuracy, concision and relevance – all of which depend on our ability to concisely convey clear facts, supported by indisputable evidence (which we have spent a long time turning upside down), in such a way that they will not be prone to misinterpretation or misunderstanding. So we would never say, ‘Cancer is more important to policymakers than heart disease’; rather, we may say, ‘A greater proportion of current health policies [precise fact] in the UK [specific context] are focused on cancer than heart disease.’
Why is this important? Because we are living in a culture of soundbites, character limits and skim‑reading – and as much as we might disparage the individuals or cultural norms that propagate this culture, we are all part of it. We measure the success of an event not by who attends it, but by the number of tweets it engenders. We measure the relevance of a campaign not by the meaningfulness of its cause, but by the comms value of its message. That is not necessarily wrong, and one would be foolish to refuse to tick the box against these metrics – but we mustn’t forget that every fact should be interrogated for its context, accuracy and relevance to other situations.