Angel Gurria, in the introduction to the 2014 OECD Yearbook, wrote ‘Building an inclusive, resilient world relies mostly on the input of all citizens’. In many countries, citizens are encouraged to participate in public policy decision processes. However, there are barriers to be overcome before this idea can become a reality. Sound evidence-based decision-making in private as well as public life requires quantitative reasoning skills, and (at least as important) positive attitudes to hard evidence i.e. a willingness to engage with statistical data.

ProCivicSat promotes the empowerment of young people by developing their ability to understand evidence about key social phenomena that permeate civic life – such as migration, demographic changes, economic equality and unemployment among different subgroups.

Development of such abilities can contribute to the Europe2020 goals whose realization requires responsible involvement and action from individual citizens and NGOs, as partners to governments’ actions. Global initiatives such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals reflect nations’ desires for a world that is fairer, and supports sustainable development. We believe that there has never been a more auspicious time for informed citizens globally to push their own governments to achieve the goals they have set themselves about social justice and the environment. But what is an ‘informed citizen’?

We begin with a bald (but we believe self evident) assertion: every interesting social phemonenon is multivariate, has non-linear relationships, and has confounding variables.

So ‘informed citizens’ need to be able to understand complex phenomena. However, there are serious problems with the ways that statistics is taught in most countries in high school and at the introductory undergraduate level (for a review, see Batanero, Burrill, Reading, 2011; for recommendations, see GAISE 2016). In essence, most curricula focus on single (or perhaps two) variable problems; they focus on technical mastery of mathematical techniques developed over 100 years ago; they use artificial data; and they make little use of data visualisation techniques. (We acknowledge that this characterisation does not apply universally, and that islands of excellence can be found). Statistical techniques taught and data sets used in current curricula (at the high-school and introductory university levels) are misaligned with the needs of citizenship, and are not geared to enable learners to transfer any skills they acquire to their duties as engaged citizens (see Cobb, 2015; Engel, 2016; and Ridgway, 2015).

ProCivicStat will improve the quality and relevance of higher education by creating resources that engage students with multivariate data on a range of interesting topics relevant to their future roles as active citizens. Data will be taken from both pan-European, global, and national resources. Integrating authentic large datasets on socially meaningful issues into teaching is expected to: increase motivation (see Nicholson, Ridgway, and McCusker, 2007, 2013); enable students to experience how statistical analyses and data play a role in understanding the pressing social and political issues of our time; and develop positive attitudes towards quantitative information used in society.

Few high school teachers in mathematics or social science receive any training on how to teach statistics. As a result teachers stay within their comfort zone and overemphasize a narrow range of statistical techniques and computations (in mathematics) or fail to engage with statistical ideas at all (in social science). They pay too little attention to working with and understanding multivariate data that describe social trends, and to the analysis, interpretation and communication about the meaning of such data. Teaching methods and resources developed here will provide both for improved skills and confidence in understanding statistics about trends, gaps, and current and projected changes in society, both in individual countries, as well as about pan-European phenomena. Thus, our project, with its deliberate focus on improving statistical literacy for social science education and the preparation of high school teachers, contributes to the quality and relevance of higher education.

Our approach will enhance the integration of digital technology in teaching and learning of statistics by using simple yet powerful tools for data visualization that offer teachers and students the potential for exploring specific trends and phenomena in large multivariate datasets. Some of the tools already exist and the project will promote their use for teaching purposes by making them available as Open Educational Resources and sharing of open code, to encourage modification and reuse. Selected tools will be made available on mobile devices in order to improve accessibility and interest of learners. The project will also develop ICT-based assessment for both formative and summative purposes that is integrated with the digital tools – an innovation in the field of statistics education.

ProCivicStat also aims to strengthen Europe’s innovation capacity through the creation of a common framework for higher education institutions that foster modernisation of education.