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Diving into Data Viz

Hi, I’m Jessica, the newest member of the GSS Good Practice Team. I joined the team in August from Public Health Wales, where I was a researcher looking at how the police respond to vulnerable people. I spent more than 100 hours observing police officers on patrol, analysed data from 85,000 police records, and interviewed a range officers and staff from call handlers to Detective Chief Inspectors. I was looking to move to a less hierarchical, less rank-based organisation – so I came to the Civil Service!

When I saw the Good Practice Adviser role advertised, I knew immediately that I wanted to join the team. As a social researcher and data analyst, I’ve been an advocate of good presentation of statistics and the importance of user engagement. Having the opportunity to deliver training and facilitate sharing seminars sealed the deal for me – I love getting out and about, meeting new people. To say I was over the moon when I was offered the job would be an understatement.

Click the image to access our accompanying guidance

But my excitement soon turned to trepidation. On my second day in the office, I watched my new boss run through the popular ‘Introduction to Data Visualisation’ course. I would be delivering the course several times myself in just a few weeks time. Martin covered the fundamental decisions and strategies for effective presentation of statistics, expertly weaving in entertaining anecdotes, historical factoids and real life examples of good (and bad!) practice from across government and beyond – without breaking a sweat. I worried about whether this would ever be second nature for me too. I watched my colleagues deliver the training one more time and before I knew it, it was time for me to go it alone. Well, co-delivering with a fellow Good Practice Team colleague.

The course is a ½ day introduction to data visualisation, focusing on effective tables and graphs but we also cover use of colour and maps. The team developed the course in collaboration with the gurus in the ONS Data Visualisation Centre (do take a look at Style.ONS and their excellent blog about data visualisation to give you some additional food for thought). We aim to show participants that when done well, good visualisations can transform complex, numerical data into accessible, meaningful information and convey a clear message to the audience. We show that things can go wrong too. It’s such fun to hear the gasps of disbelief (and in extreme examples, horror) from the audience at some for the examples of ‘less good’ practice from across government. The content is interesting and engaging, and the course is as enjoyable to deliver as it is to watch – hopefully my first audiences agree. We’ve made the course very interactive, and it’s fascinating to hear the experiences of participants and the challenges they face in visualising data effectively – anything from being stuck with a bad corporate template to an organisation-wide ban on pie charts!

Over the years, the team have updated and adapted the course based on feedback from participants, refining the content to make it most relevant to the GSS. If you have any examples good data visualisations, we’d love to highlight them in the course and across our networks.

The course is accompanied by comprehensive guidance and a range of templates for visualising data. These materials ensure participants can to put their learning into practice. And of course, there’s ongoing support available from the Good Practice Team – we’re here to help!

If you think you or your team would benefit from attending the ‘Introduction to Data Visualisation’ course or any of our other training and events, please get in touch, or take a look at our brochure.

If there’s a few of you and you can find a room, we can come to you. I look forward to working with many more of you as I settle into my new role.