Regulation with Rosie: Credibility of research

I recently heard a radio interview with a Manchester charity for homeless people, which disputed government statistics about homelessness in the area.

Both sides were asked to explain how they arrived at their differing totals. No prizes for guessing who won.

We're living through times when the credibility of previously sacred cows is being challenged to an unprecedented degree. From the number of civilian deaths in Iraq to the number of asylum seekers, official statistics are increasingly viewed as suspect.

This has an inevitable impact on public trust and confidence in officialdom and, to a certain extent, a knock-on effect on the information provided by any organisation working in a public capacity.

With changes in public attitudes taking years to filter through, charities have to take the initiative in demonstrating that the information they produce can be trusted.

Charities have a significant advantage over government in this regard - personal contact. You interact with people in a way that official agencies just can't.

From helplines to fundraisers, websites to information leaflets, this advantage applies to every aspect of a charity - but only if activities are joined up. Is it hard to get information about your annual expenditure from your website? Is your press function helpful and expansive, or does it demonstrate a no-comment culture? Can you explain how the statistics you use in your fundraising material are gathered? If information from one bit of the organisation is inconsistent with another, or if you state you are an open organisation but won't discuss the terms on which you got your last major donation, the credibility gap widens.

So be open and clear about the statistics you use and help to close that gap.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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