The Harding Prize for Trustworthy Communication

...for communication that helps

Sense about Scence Logo
Sense about Science champions the public interest in sound science and ensures evidence is recognised in public life.
`Winton Centre Logo
The Winton Centre believes that everyone has a right to balanced evidence on issues important to them, presented in a transparent way, to inform but not persuade.
Science Media Centre Logo
The Science Media Centre ensures the public have access to the best scientific evidence and expertise through the news media.

When we have a decision to make, or we want to understand someone else’s decision, we often look for a source of trustworthy evidence on the subject. Yet balanced, useful evidence can be hard to find.

In association with Sense About Science and the Science Media Centre, the Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication celebrates those who tackle the communication of evidence well, with the annual Harding Prizes for Trustworthy Communication.

These prizes are designed to reward those who are trying to help their audiences make up their own minds on the basis of the best evidence available: communication purely for the benefit of the audience.

What kind of evidence?

The Harding Prizes are specifically for those who try to gather together the information that helps someone make a decision, or make their mind up about a subject, without trying to tell them what to do.

It might be designed for a general audience, to help people make a significant decision in their own daily life: about their personal finances, their health, their education, or a big life change.

It might be designed for a more specialist audience, to help those making a decision on behalf of others: perhaps if they’re policymakers, head teachers, or business leaders.

Maybe it will help people make a decision about what to think: on the pros and cons of a big issue - like nuclear power, tax policies or drugs laws.

What subjects and formats?

Those above are just examples. The range of eligible subjects, audiences and media is wide, and could include almost anything involving a significant decision. Scroll down to see previous winners and short-listed entries to see the kind of thing that we're looking for. For the 2023 prize, there will again be two categories: one for communications of evidence to a specialist audience, and one for communications to a broader, general public audience.

‘Communication' might mean a news article, a social media posting, a website, a leaflet, a report, original research in a journal, a podcast, TV, a speech... As long as it can be taken in within ten minutes (e.g. not a book or a long film), and you can provide it to us in full for judging.

Communications must be in English but can originate from any country, worldwide. Entries must have been placed in the public domain during 2023.

How is ‘good’ judged?

To aid decision-making, good communication should, above all, be trustworthy. It should primarily serve the interests of the audience, not the communicator. It will present evidence in a balanced and clear way, and it should include uncertainties and limitations of the evidence.

Information should be appropriate for its audience in content, length, depth and format. And it should be clear about what it’s trying to achieve: who is it helping, and what decision are they making?

The prize

Each Harding Prize is worth £3,141.59

Judging panel

Entries will be shortlisted by: Sir David Spiegelhalter, Dr Alexandra Freeman, Sir John Aston, Michael Blastland, Prof Sander van der Linden and Dame Theresa Marteau.

The final Harding Prize winners will be chosen by a panel including: Helen Boaden, Alf Collins and Fraser Nelson.

Who can enter?

Anyone can submit an entry – which can either be a piece of your own work, or something that you have seen and appreciated.

In order to be awarded the Harding Prize, the originator of the communication must be correctly identifiable.

Nominators will remain anonymous, so don't worry about being seen to nominate yourself.

Entries for the 2023 prizes is now closed and we will be announcing the winners in late spring 2024.

The judges’ decision will be final and correspondence will not be entered into.

We believe that everyone has a right to balanced evidence on issues important to them; evidence presented in a transparent way, to inform but not persuade. So often, communication is focussed on giving people a ‘take home message’, telling them what to think or do.

2022's Winners

In 2022 we decided to have two categories of winner: one for information for a public audience and one for an expert audience.

The IFS’s interactive NHS waiting list calculator allows people to play around with ‘what if…’ scenarios to see the effect of different factors on NHS waiting lists. The judges thought that this was a ‘ground breaking’ piece of communication worthy of the Public Audience Award. “Given the importance of data in our society”, said one judge, “playing with this tool, I feel I have seen the future in democratising the models which increasingly shape our lives.”

What was particularly important was that it shows “how mathematical models which affect real life decision making are subject to change when the assumptions and parameters behind them change, and so the uncertainties and the challenges of using data to reach conclusions.”

The Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology’s ’Green Steel’ briefing for MPs, on how steel production in the UK, responsible for about 2% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, can be decarbonised, won the Expert Audience Award. The judges commented that this was “an excellent example of a complex technical subject explained with superb clarity. Its tone of detached, thoughtful authority was consistently accessible and jargon free. The document offered very detailed references; the limitations of the evidence were included and at no point did the document attempt to steer the reader to a particular viewpoint.”

They added that “The risk of overwhelming the reader was deftly avoided by a clear layout and strong sign posting. The Overview Box and two other boxes outlining background information, were models of accurate efficiency.”

The committee also wants to congratulate all those who were shortlisted for the 2022 award, which included a great range of subjects, formats and styles:

David Spiegelhalter, Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication said:

“We are bombarded by messaging that purports to be informing us, but is actually trying to manipulate our emotions and persuade us to think or act in a certain way - say by inducing anxiety, prematurely reassuring, or only telling one side of the story. This prize celebrates those who genuinely try and tell it how it is, to help us all understand more and make better decisions. All the shortlisted entries deserve our sincere congratulations."

2021's Winners

The Harding Prize for 2021 was jointly won by the ONS Covid Infection Survey and the Cochrane Review of Hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19.

Helen Boaden, Chair of the judging panel, commented:

“It's never been more important for the public and policy makers to have access to the best possible evidence before they make significant decisions for themselves or others.

Both our winners set the gold standard for clearly communicating accurate, trustworthy, transparent data without frills or spin. The panel is delighted to jointly award them the inaugural Harding Prize.”

The ONS Covid Infection Survey are using their prize money to support lectures, presentations and events in Universities, themed around ‘statistics for the public good’. They are targeting universities with a high proportion of students from under-represented backgrounds to highlight the importance of our data for shaping government policy and therefore encourage them to take up a career in statistics.