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3 things I learned on my BBC secondment

Natasha Bance

I worked at the BBC on a 6-month secondment on the statistics Fast Stream. I had two main responsibilities whilst I was there:

  • to help with the use of statistics in stories
  • to improve data visualisation for live TV segments

The BBC was a really different environment to the Civil Service, and there are 3 things I learned which stand out.


Firstly, the media works fast. For example, the Head of Stats Robert Cuffe might get 30 minutes notice to go on BBC news and do a live segment. In those 30 minutes:

  • an outline script or questions must be written
  • data visualisations are created and uploaded to the video software
  • producers have to be sent the visualisations and questions to create the TV graphics

Then the director directs this segment, not having seen the script or visualisations because they have so many other tasks to do. The director chooses which camera angles are appropriate and when to show the visualisations.

Working on the actual stories was fast as well. The headlines from the 7am labour market releases are live by 7:05am! It was fun to work at this speed, and good to develop skills which allowed me to do so.

Working on many different topics

Secondly, journalists have an amazing ability to pick up ideas quickly. In my Civil Service roles, I usually worked on one area and I was knowledgeable on that area. However, every day at the BBC I worked with journalists on multiple different topics and had to make decisions with little prior knowledge.

Because of the time pressure, I realised external experts were my best friend here. I would find a reliable think tank or researcher and ask them questions about the topic. I also found this made it easier to argue a case. If I disagreed with the presentation of statistics in a story and wanted it to be removed or softened, it was useful to be able to say “this expert agrees with me”.

Data visualisations

Finally, the data visualisations and Git usage at the BBC was so impressive. The cookbooks made making charts so simple, the house style packages were brilliant and were always being updated, and Git use was widespread and well implemented. These setups made it easier to work at pace and I realised I had been slacking in this area in previous role. It is definitely something I will use in future work.

My experience

The BBC secondment was a good experience. It was such a different way of working and I worked on lots of interesting things, from Children in Need to Budget Day. If you want to try a different area of work and to see how government statistics are used by the media and public, it’s a worthwhile experience.

Jack Rodgers
Natasha Bance
Jack Rodgers works in global supply chains analysis at the Department for Business and Trade. His role involves developing methods to monitor supply chains and delivering this information to policy colleagues.