Sam Hall is Head of Publishing Operations at the Office for National Statistics.
Statistics may be defined as "a body of methods for making wise decisions in the face of uncertainty".
W.A. Wallis, economist, statistician and US Presidential advisor
There are thousands of great quotations about statistics. Generally they are fairly rude, poking fun at the way figures can be used to satisfy any side of an argument. I’m sure this could be the case, but what statistics really do is provide people with critical, decision-making information. Information they wouldn’t have if data hadn’t been collected, compiled, anonymised, analysed and published for everyone to see.
Moving to GOV.UK
I’ve worked at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for 13 years, and for the last few my team has supported the publishing of hundreds of official statistics each year.
We also manage the Publication Hub, where all official statistics are announced. Towards the end of 2013 our technical colleagues alerted us to some concerns they had over the stability and longevity of the Publication Hub. We knew there were options available, but the most sensible involved moving from our ‘independent from government’ website to GOV.UK.
We had some big decisions to make and a lot of important people to talk to.
Each year in excess of 3,000 official statistics are announced on the Publication Hub and 2.5 million visitors use the website to keep up to date with releases and schedules.
Moving this facility to GOV.UK looked straightforward from a technical point of view. But changing the business processes and making sure we looked at any concerns our statistical producers, heads of profession and board members might have was a considerable task. We attended lots of boards, delivered show-and-tells to dozens of producers, wrote updates and information papers.
So far we have received lots of great feedback and really useful suggestions for future enhancements.
Focussing on the user
The GDS team we worked with were great at keeping us focussed on the users and not letting us over-think the solution. We kept things simple for both users and producers, and only transitioned the elements of the existing Publication Hub which were popular and widely accessed.
Using metrics and feedback we were able to identify that the most important element was the Statistical Release Calendar, which has been re-imagined and rebuilt on GOV.UK.
We’re really pleased with how its turned out. We are also very happy to continue our work with GDS to produce ‘best practice’ standards for statistical publishing.
Opening up statistics
Statistical information enables people to make informed choices. We tend to associate this decision making with politicians, administrators and the financial sector. However, when you work in statistics you see that the appetite for information is much wider than most people think. Everyone should be able to access the data they need. We’ve been lucky enough to work on a project which will open up statistics to an even bigger audience. That can’t be bad.