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GSS > Policy and guidance hub > User engagement

User engagement

This content is under review.

We are currently developing a GSS user engagement strategy. This page will be updated when the strategy is released. If you would like more information, or wish to share your experiences of engaging with users of statistics, please email

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:5 April 2019
Author:Good Practice Team
Approver:Good Practice Team
Who this is for:Members of the Government Statistical Service

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.”


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!

Look at 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 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 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 weren’t aware of.


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.

Consultations and surveys

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

This case study tells you about work conducted on user engagement for housing and planning statistics by Esther Sutherland (Social Survey Division) & Ian Boreham (GSS strategy and Delivery division).

Case study: Housing and planning statistics

As part of a wider project of work to improve the accessibility and coherence of housing and planning statistics we recently conducted an external user engagement survey. The online survey ran for eight weeks in April and May 2019 and asked users for feedback on the housing and planning statistics we publish across the GSS. More information on the results of the survey can be found on the GSS blog.

We learned lessons throughout the process which we think are helpful  to share.  We hope these points will help others as they think about conducting their own user engagement.

  1. Planning processes – while designing the survey we sought lots of feedback, spoke with statistics producers, tested the survey with users and got constructive feedback from the GSS Best Practice and Impact Division. This effort up front was key to ensuring we collected good quality data
  2. Promoting the survey – we invested a lot of time promoting the survey and used a variety of communication channels. We also worked collaboratively with other government departments who also promoted the survey
  3. Design to analyse the survey – We designed our survey with lots of open questions, and were pleased that respondents provided lots of information in the free text boxes – over 15,000 words! However, this comes with an associated cost in analysis. So, think of the trade-off between closed and open questions. While closed questions don’t give you such rich insight, there are simpler to analyse and disseminate.
  4. Collaboration – we engaged with the Data Science Campus at the Office for National Statistics. The campus applied machine learning techniques to look at the data which gave us a solid base to start the analysis from and provided results within 24 hours of the survey closing
  5. Think through how you will use the results – different sections of our results will relevant to different departments, depending on the statistics they produce. We are now considering how we can package the findings to ensure each department gets the information they need to take the work forward. On reflection, we could have considered how we might do this earlier and made changes to the survey design and subsequent analysis to make this process more straight forward
  6. Digital tools – It has never been easier to run a light touch consultation, with many relatively inexpensive products and an increasing ability to automatically analyse free text
  7. Timing – Eight weeks may seem long, but it will allow different communication methods to be used and greater variety of users to be approached.  We also had to take account of purdah when planning the release and promotion of our survey.

Though there are many different ways you can do it, it is never a bad idea to conduct user engagement. The investment needed to design and undertake our survey has been easily repaid by the wealth of useful feedback received which we can continue to draw on to maximise the public value of housing and planning statistics.

We hope that our successes have inspired you and our reflections will help you think about how you can engage with your users to ensure that we are enhancing the public value of our statistics across the GSS.

If you are considering running your own user engagement activity and would like to get some expert advice, email

Meetings, workshops, seminars, webinars

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) might be a good way to get a wider range of users attending because people do will not need to travel to your event. 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/computer/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


Start a regular newsletter about your statistics and ask people to sign up.

User groups

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


When you have a publication launch it by holding an event and inviting users to it.

Social media

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!

User research

Carry out user research.

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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