It's time to rethink the report

We launch new ebook on the future for the PDF

A couple of weeks back I noticed a news story revealing that the World Bank’s chief economist had been sidelined after demanding his staff write more concisely.

Staff had rebelled against Paul Romer’s calls to get straight to the point, restrictions on the use of “and”, plus other similar requests.

Romer, who remains chief economist but no longer has a management role, was apparently frustrated by the bank’s convoluted report style and wanted researchers to be more direct and use the active voice.

Seeing this news story was timely as we prepared to launch our new ebook Rethinking Reports, as the journey which led to it, started with the World Bank.

The bank revealed back in 2014 that 517 of its reports, published in a PDF format on its website between 2008 and 2012, had never been downloaded. Not even once.

If ever there was a stat that could support what had already become a bit of a niche for Senate Media – taking political, policy, and academic report documents and turning them into short and engaging animations – this was it.

We were already convinced of the value of creating an easily accessible video to summarise a report document. After all, why spend all that time researching and writing it if only a handful of people are ever going to read it.

But we wanted to put together a more convincing and thoroughly thought through case, and it is that which has resulted in Rethinking Reports.

In the ebook (which of course is also summarised via a series of videos) we go back to the beginning of reports and explore their origins to help us to understand where they could go in future.

This research also brought us into contact for the first time with the concept of Grey Literature – a catch all term for publications produced not for commercial gain, but for advocacy and advancing thought.

And it helped us to uncover some compelling facts, such as the $30billion per year Australia spends on producing Grey Literature reports, much of which ends up buried on websites, stunting their ability to drive the innovation and progress they were designed to create.

We look at the opportunities presented by the advantages of video content over text, combined with distribution on social media – now used by growing numbers of influencers - to redress this.

And we pose the question whether a series of videos explaining a report’s content, in the style of a Report Hub, could render a PDF version redundant.

After all, they have a fundamental ability to succinctly communicate headline findings from reports, or in other words: get straight to the point.

We’d like to think Paul Romer would approve.

Nathan Coyne
By Nathan Coyne