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Discovering the Data Landscape of the GSS – here we go again!

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 Around the GSS in 80 days

Last September saw the ONS Digital Transformation team embark on a journey that would lead them to every corner of the country aiming to uncover the secrets of data dissemination within the GSS. Our project came to an end in March. The deliverable – a not insignificant report – was submitted proudly but nervously to John Pullinger for his review. Here’s the edited highlights. Thankfully, it was well received and gave us a focus for the next phase.

So many of our colleagues from across the GSS helped us build and deliver this project and it was important for us to repay that effort by coming back and talking what we’d found because of that. Over several weeks we took planes, trains and automobiles to London, Belfast, Leeds, Edinburgh, Manchester and Newcastle and presented the work, the early findings and what the next steps would be to an estimated audience of over 500 colleagues. Here are the slides for those who couldn’t atttend.

Thank you to Mary-Susan Barry, Katie Dodd, Gemma Kirk, the PDC symposium organisers, the NHS Digital team, Rachel Longstaff in Manchester, Suzanne, Cormac and Kim in Northern Ireland, and Gregor Boyd in Scotland for hosting us and helping us feed people. It’s been a truly collaborative experience!

So, what now?

It’s easy to fall in the trap and think “now let’s build an uber-GSS website” but that doesn’t feel right. It’s a big enough challenge for large departmental websites to cope with offering a good online service. How does the GSS cope with something n times greater in volume and divergence?

So, we know tackling the whole of the GSS in one go is a stretch too far. Our aim is to investigate how we can bring together a set of ‘related’ data from departments and serve this to our user groups. We are calling this a “dataset family”. We’ve picked trade as the subject for the exemplar as lots of departments produce trade data and we know users struggle to find what is available and where. The topic is somewhat of a hot ticket too!

Over the next few months we’re aiming to build a network of experts from departments producing trade data. This group will help us to shape the scope, provide the data needed and put us in touch with the user groups that can define their needs for a service – all within a very ambitious timetable. Here we can test ideas and theories that will prove or disprove these are scalable and replicable across the GSS. The most important aspect of this work is to understand more about how we shape the data. How we structure data and metadata across departments that adheres to standards and makes better use of harmonised concepts across the board is where the true value in this work lies.

User research

We know that discoverability and usability are key areas for our external user groups. How do we help get users to the things they need? How do we cater for many users – people and machines? What metadata do users need?

These questions resonate inside the GSS too as the GSS itself is one of the largest users of its data. How do we make using data across departments easier? How do we remove the burden from organisations catering for all users?

User research will play a big part in finding out the answers to these questions. Our approach to understanding the users is a little unorthodox: we’ve decided not to use personas. Our next blog will explain why and what we’re aiming to do, but in a nutshell our research will use the “jobs to be done” concept. We’ll use a value proposition canvas method to identify the tasks users want to do, the difficulties they face in completing them and what we can do to make these tasks easier. The idea is simple: take the knowledge we’ve gathered to design and build prototype products and services that could meet these user needs.

We’ll be blogging about our progress as things happen, so keep your eyes peeled on the GSS website blog for more updates.

Darren Barnes