Contemplate, germinate, formulate – GSS discovery project, what comes next?

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When we began the GSS discovery project several months ago, we realised we had an awful lot of work to do. We also had that gung-ho feeling that comes with embarking on something new. Now after months of hard work, lots of nights in Travelodges and hours spent travelling from Scotland to Southend I can honestly say the gung-ho feeling is still there, albeit tempered by the huge quantity of information we’re now working our way through!

We’ve completed all our deep dive activities with our candidate departments, so a huge thank you to them for accommodating us and enduring our grilling. We’ve learnt so much and been so impressed by the dedication and knowledge of the teams we’ve spoken with, across the GSS.

Our questionnaire still has a few stragglers, but we stand at around 70% completion which has given us some excellent data on which to make recommendations. Again, thank you to everyone that completed it, and if you haven’t, please do. The same goes for the spreadsheet of outputs; we’ve found that there isn’t a cohesive picture of data across the GSS for our users and members. Having a comprehensive picture of data assets from across the GSS is really the foundation from which we can build.

The work to develop an early prototype has progressed well and we have something which can take data in all it’s glorious forms, strip it back, flatten it and turn it into beautifully structured data which we can use to produce linked open data. This provides the opportunity to have data in a commonly defined format that is more useful for technical users but also to distribute the data in greater range of downloadable formats for more general users.

For us, now the really hard work has started in earnest. We’re working to fill gaps in user research by speaking to a wide range of GSS statistical data users. We plan to test the prototype in real scenarios with real users, and we’re also pulling together our final report. A really big final report…

As many of you are aware, ONS funded this project but we’ve also had great support from the GSS Presentation and Dissemination Committee, Good Practice Team, GDS, our own management and the National Statistician – and now it’s time to make sense of all we’ve learnt and put together a coherent proposal for what happens next. The first steps will be a return to the ONS Design Authority who agreed the funding for the discovery project so that they can see where the money went, and also what the future could look like.

We’ll of course share our final report and aim to hold Show and Tell sessions for GSS members to meet with us, see the prototype and quiz us on the project and what happens next. We’ll also be able to introduce you to what we lovingly call “The Solar System of Statistics”, a tool which takes all of your spreadsheet returns, maps them and visualises them to give a real understanding of the breadth of statistical data available. (It’s quite hard to describe, but is a wonder to see!)

So please do bear with us while we go off grid for a couple of weeks to finalise the report and gather the last pieces of information. If you do have any burning questions, please continue to email us.

If, in the meantime, you still need a fix of data discovery work then we’ll point you in the direction of the work to improve the ONS website. Since the launch of the latest ONS website in February 2016, we’ve been investigating how we can make further improvements for our users. One of those improvements is being explored through our Data Discovery Alpha. It isn’t a single new thing, it won’t have a URL or a brand, it is just a package of work to make the ONS site better. Our aim is to try to enable users to:

  • find data easily (fewer websites, better search and more context so users know what they’re getting)
  • customise datasets (filter and refine, so they don’t have to download everything)
  • browse by location (national, regional and local data; and geography products)

We have written about our Data Discovery Alpha a few times in recent months and we’ll continue to use our digital blog to keep you updated of our progress.

Sam Hall, Office for National Statistics