Current landscape of user engagement – summary of findings

The user engagement strategy for statistics was published in February 2021. It is a four-year strategy which sets out a plan of action for building a more meaningful and sustained dialogue between producers, users and potential users of statistics.

The strategy’s vision is for user engagement to be second nature for all producers of statistics and its goals are to:

  • collaborate across boundaries to offer a more coherent user experience
  • build capability and equip producers of statistics with the practical skills and tools to deliver effective engagement activities, and
  • strengthen our culture and ensure user engagement is always an ongoing and essential part of a statistics producer’s role

This report fulfils deliverable 1.2 of the strategy to understand the current landscape of user engagement across the Government Statistical Service (GSS). It details the findings of the ‘current landscape of user engagement survey’ which was launched in June 2021. The report will also help identify areas that the new central User Support and Engagement Resource (USER) hub can support, when it is established later in 2021.

Executive summary

There were 179 survey responses from a mix of statisticians, social researchers and economists from almost all government departments.

Almost three-quarters of respondents agreed that they had a good idea of who uses their statistics and data. However, identifying new or less obvious users of statistics remained challenging for many respondents. Lack of time, resource, and responses were the top three barriers mentioned, similar to those highlighted in the User Engagement Strategy. Security and privacy issues were also listed as organisational barriers to identifying new users.

Engagement appears to predominantly be conducted on an ad hoc basis. Surprisingly 14% of respondents say they do not currently engage with users of their statistics at all. More work is needed to understand why this is the case.

As expected, a broad range of activities are used to engage with users of statistics. The most common activities are meetings or conversations, consultations, and surveys. Meetings and conversations, either individually or as a group, online or face to face, and with an element of free discussion, tended to be the most effective engagement tool. Low participation in some consultations and surveys meant these activities were not always effective at collecting the appropriate range or depth of feedback required. This is an area where analysts need further support.

Respondents also discussed other aspects, such as not having permissions to use social media, and StatsUserNet requiring members to log in, as barriers to engagement.

Almost half of respondents tailor at least some of their engagement activities and communication styles, often based on that user’s expertise, digital literacy or stated preference for engagement. Further support is required to share successes around tailoring activities to different audiences.

There are a vast number of user groups and engagement forums across government. However, only a quarter of respondents stated that they participate in such groups or forums. More work is needed to promote thematic engagement and encourage participation in these groups so they can be utilised to their full potential.

Just under half of respondents collaborate with other teams within their organisation. Analytical, policy and communication teams (comms) are those that are collaborated with most. This engagement is usually via online tools including Yammer, Skype and Microsoft Teams as well as through regular emails and catch-up meetings. Collaboration had enabled teams to coordinate and join up activities and share knowledge and experiences to maximise their impact.

In respect of barriers to internal collaboration, respondents reported:

  • a lack of understanding and awareness of user engagement generally, with little knowledge of how to do it and at what frequency
  • organisational barriers such as a lack of understanding of who to contact for what and “who deals with which stakeholders?”
  • a lack of internal coordination and leadership promoting the benefits of collaboration
  • a passive approach to engagement assuming that “if people don’t like something they will get in touch”

Only around 1 in every 5 respondents say they have access to a user researcher within their organisation. User researchers had been effectively used by some to build capability, help identify users and their needs, create user personas and answer specific research questions.

Almost half of respondents collaborate with other government departments. Far fewer respondents collaborate with other external organisations such as industry, academics and the voluntary sector and some do not see this as part of their role at all. Collaboration, when it happens, tends to be on an ad hoc basis and is predominantly via regular meetings, presentations and workshops. It tends to focus on sharing information and knowledge on specific projects and publications, though can also be about sharing resource. Those that had collaborated externally benefitted from gaining a wider understanding of their topic area.

In respect of barriers to external collaboration, respondents reported:

  • difficulty in knowing who to contact and how to find and prioritise the relevant people to engage with
  • lack of empowerment to engage as user engagement is handled by other teams in their organisation, as opposed to themselves
  • data sharing, software and security restrictions impeding engagement capability

Almost a third of respondents agreed they could confidently conduct effective user engagement activities. This still leaves a large proportion of people who need further support with all areas of user engagement.

Respondents requested support via training, workshops and guidance and also showed an interest in mentoring and shadowing opportunities.

The user engagement champion network helps to improve and encourage user engagement across government. Just over half the respondents knew who their organisation’s user engagement champion was. It is evident that more needs to be done to promote the champions’ role.

The project team have put together an action plan based on the survey’s findings. These proposed actions include:

  1. Continuing to actively promote the strategy and its goals of collaboration, capability building and culture change.
  2. Defining and promoting the champion role within and across government organisations.
  3. Working with champions and Heads of Profession to share existing user insight more widely across government.
  4. Encouraging champions to reach out to their internal policy and communications teams to support engagement activities and highlight the benefits that can be achieved through collaboration.
  5. Preparing top-tips guidance on a range of engagement topics, including survey best practice.
  6. Creating a central repository for new and existing user research and engagement resources.

If you have any questions or would like further information on the survey findings, please contact