In November 2013 DCLG held a statistics user engagement day. It was an opportunity for us to get feedback and views on a wide variety of issues relating to our stats including outputs, methodology, our future work program and departmental statistical priorities. After an introduction session with a keynote from Will Moy of Full Fact the day was split into three lots of three parallel sessions on all areas the department produces statistics on. There were also stalls where users could talk to statisticians and gain further information about what we do within the department.
The small event that got a lot bigger
The idea of a user engagement day came to me out of slight frustration that we couldn’t answer some of the data requests that we were being sent. The questions that were being asked were perfectly reasonable but we just didn’t collect what they were asking for. In my area the forms that collect the data were produced over 16 years ago and although there have been some additions and removals, the form hasn’t changed much since then. Because of this, I thought it would be useful to ask users of our data if what we collect is still relevant and useful to them.
I decided to see if it would be possible to organise an event where we could get information and feedback from our users. Originally it was going to be small scale with a few different teams being involved, but after taking the idea to my Head of Profession, it quickly spiralled into a whole department event!
Organising the event
We managed to get at least one person from every area of the department that produces statistics to join a planning committee. This was where our first problem lay. We needed all these people to be involved but trying to organise meetings where everyone could attend and trying to get everyone to submit ideas for their sessions was not easy. We did get there though. Every person was in charge of organising their own session and feeding back to the organisation committee. We managed to meet every 3-4 weeks and had a shared area so that everyone had access to all documents. There was also a dedicated email address which was monitored by 3 people so that it was less likely that emails would be missed or affected by people on leave.
The other really big challenge we had was trying to predict how many people were going to turn up on the day. The first thing we did was to book all the conference rooms and large meeting rooms in the building but because we had nothing to base it on, we had no idea if on the day they were going to be full to the brim or nearly empty. We got around this by trying to advertise it as widely as possible but monitor numbers attending each session so that the most appropriately sized room could be allocated. We sent out invitations and summaries to all contacts we had that were interested in our stats and we also advertised on various statistics websites and forums including StatsUserNet and Knowledge Hub. Attendees signed up using a Survey Monkey link which allowed us to monitor attendees and stop taking bookings for individual sessions if numbers got too high.
The Big Day
Around 150 people showed up on the day representing local authorities, housing trusts academics charities as well as other government departments which was a lot more than I had ever imagined, and most were very enthusiastic and engaged. The day started with a very interesting and entertaining talk from our keynote speaker Will Moy from Full Fact who highlighted the importance and use of government statistics. Logistically the day was hard. We had to run exactly to schedule so that there was enough time to change rooms around during the break. There was a real buzz about the event, most people were fully engaged and really wanted to get involved in the sessions. The stalls were very popular too.
So what did attendees think?
Following the event we sent out feedback forms to attendees and we got a lot of positive feedback and there were a number of requests for the day to be repeated annually. Obviously, as it was the first time we had done an event like this, there were some suggestions for improvement but the overall response was very good.
“I thought it was a useful event where stats providers and users met in one place to share ideas, comments and provide feedback.” (Performance Analyst, Westminster Council).
“It would be good to have more of these events.” (Contracts, Performance and Partnerships Officer, Eastbourne Council).
“I found the day very engaging and informative.” (National Statistician’s Office).
What did DCLG statisticians think?
The response from DCLG statisticians was very positive. For most of them this had been the first time they had been able to get feedback, question and have discussions with users about their stats in this way. We got a lot of valuable feedback from users which we hope to use to help make improvements to our statistics. A number of statisticians also found it useful to just talk to the attendees to find out how their statistics were being used. We discovered from a social landlord that social lettings data is being used to inform local strategic decision making, for example to assess the impacts of changes to service provision and community investment decisions.
We hope to continue to engage users in this way. We plan to either repeat the event as a whole or maybe break it down into a number of smaller themed sessions in future.
For anyone who plans on doing a similar event these are a few things I would recommend:
- Have a planning team. Someone needs to take overall charge but have people who can help with various aspects of organising the day.
- Monitor numbers attending each session and make sure the room you have is big enough. No-one likes being packed into a small space.
- Be detailed in what is going to be covered in each session. Make it clear who this session is aimed at and what outcomes you hope to achieve from it.
- If you have budget constraints, be open and honest in advance about what you will be providing and what you won’t.