User engagement guidance

This content is under review.

We have recently published a user engagement strategy for the Government Statistical Service and Analysis Function and will be updating this accompanying guidance soon.

 

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:5 April 2019
Author:Best Practice and Impact Division
Approver:Best Practice and Impact Division
Who this is for:Members of the Government Analysis Function
Type:Guidance
Contact:

gsshelp@statistics.gov.uk

Why we need to engage with users

We need to engage with users so that we:

  • prioritise our work based on what statistics users want
  • understand what users do with our data
  • understand what is an acceptable level of quality
  • present statistics when they want them and in a way they understand
  • can build trust in our statistics
  • maximise the use of our statistics
  • can test experimental statistics
  • can make users feel a part of the process

Furthermore, the Code of Practice for Statistics says:

“Users of statistics and data should be at the centre of statistical production; their needs should be understood, their views sought and acted upon, and their use of statistics supported.”

 

How to identify users

Brainstorm

Have a think about who might use your statistics.

It might help to think about groups of users:

  • Small, medium and large businesses
  • International organisations
  • Trade unions
  • Teachers
  • Local government
  • Politicians and parliament
  • Lobby groups
  • The NHS
  • Bank of England
  • Journalists
  • Charities
  • The general public

 

Build user personas

User personas are detailed descriptions of “typical” people who use your statistics. They are a highly effective way of capturing essential information about your target audience. You can build them by doing user research.

They can be used to ensure you develop and design ways of communicating statistics in a user-centred way.

The Office for National Statistics have done work on this when developing their website.

Take a look at the user personas they have put together.

Use what you already have

Take a look at what you already know about your users. Look over feedback, public enquiries, Freedom of Information requests, Parliamentary Questions etc.

Use Google Analytics

You can use Google analytics to look into lots of things, including how many people viewed your publication online and how they found it. How you will be able to use Google Analytics will depend on the website your statistics are published on.

Set up Google Alerts

Google Alerts are emails sent to you when Google finds new online content that matches your search term. They are a simple way to monitor anything on the web.

They can be used to monitor how your statistical publications, or key phrases linked to your statistics, are being used in Google. They are a really good way to find out more about how the statistics you produce are being used.

Words of warning:

1)    There are limitations to the Google algorithms as they are essentially a text search. So you may get some irrelevant alerts.

2)    Acronyms can be problematic because one acronym can stand for different things. E.g. UKSA can stand for “UK Statistics Authority” but it can also stand for UK Space Agency or UK Sailing Academy!

Use Google Trends

Google trends allows you to look at what people are putting into Google. Take a look at Google trends for the UK.

Use social media

For example, create an account on Twitter. Look at accounts that tweet about your statistics. Look at their followers – these are likely to be users of your statistics.

You could take a sample of users and look into what they do and why they are interested in your statistics.

You can also use online tools to do some web-scraping:

  • If you go to analytics.twitter.com while logged in, you can find some high level info (follower’s interests, demographics, location etc) in the audiences tab
  • If you use Hootsuite to manage social media there are some analytics built into that (even in the free version).
  • Other free tools are followerwonk.com and TweetStats
  • Onalytica and Brandwatch are other scraping tools you have to pay for

Talk to people

Ask policy colleagues or your media team if they know of any users you’re not aware of.

Advertise

Ask users to get in touch:

  • Put information on how they can get in touch with you on your publications
  • Put adverts in industry and special interest publications or websites
  • Ask users to get in touch through social media.

How to engage with users

Users are central to the statistics we produce, and engaging with users should therefore be at the core of what we do.

Consultations and surveys

User engagement through consultations and surveys is common across the GSS. Our case study relating to housing and planning statistics outlines some things to consider when taking this approach.

User events

You can set up meetings, workshops and seminars and invite users to attend. Invite users you already know about and ask them to spread the word. It is also good to advertise on social media and in statistical and industry publications or websites.

Webinars (which are online seminars) are a good way to get a wider range of users attending. Take a look at using GoToWebinar.

Webinars are good because:

  • they are easy to set up and join
  • up to 100 people can join
  • no specialist software is needed for the host or attendees – you just need a laptop or computer or tablet with internet access and a phone.
  • you can use a webcam if you wish.
  • attendees can see the slides of the presentation and hear the voice of the host live, without moving from their desk
  • attendees can also ask questions, either by typing them or asking them verbally
  • the session can be recorded, meaning you can circulate the presentation with commentary to anyone who could not attend

You might also consider holding a publication launch event and inviting users to it.

User groups

Invite people to join user groups and set up regular meetings.

User research

Carry out user research. These case studies from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Cabinet Office and the Office of Rail and Road outline approaches you might wish to consider

Social media and newsletters

Use social media to promote your statistics and start conversations with users. Remember to adhere to civil service and departmental rules regarding the use of social media though!

You could also start a regular newsletter about your statistics and ask people to sign up.

Answer questions

Use Google Trends to find out what sort of questions users are asking about your statistics or, more generally the area you work in.

Then directly address these questions in your publications.

This BBC newsbeat article about Brexit does this.

Online forums

Make use of online user forums like StatsUserNet (an interactive website for communication between users and producers of statistics). These are particularly useful if your users are active on these forums.

 

Review frequency:

This guidance is reviewed annually.

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