Fresh thinking: ONS and the ODI

We have recently commissioned the Open Data Institute to build a small, but working, proof of concept to investigate whether the lessons learned from the success of Legislation.gov.uk could be useful in the development of a new Office for National Statistics website.

Legislation.gov.uk is an award winning website that provides online access to the majority of UK legislation and explanatory notes dating back in some cases hundreds of years. It is widely admired for successfully taking a huge amount of complex data and presenting it online in a manner that is helpful to users as well as in a format that is both appreciated by search engines and also reusable by other applications via linked data.

There are close parallels between the Legislation.gov.uk project and what we would like to achieve with the ONS website in the future.

While Legislation.gov.uk was actually developed by the TSO it was the ODI Technical Director, Jeni Tennison, who was the lead developer of the project and as she was also involved in the development of the Data.gov.uk project as well as numerous other projects building data rich websites so the ODI seemed like a good fit for us as we upped our search for some fresh thinking.

The ODI are taking a single ONS statistical release, the Producer Price Index, analysing and mapping the data contained within it and converting that to provide a data API that we will ‘dogfood‘ so it can be presented in appropriate user friendly formats on the frontend.

The ODI are building this prototype on top of the open source GOV.UK publishing platform and API, extending the functionality to better serve ONS needs while ensuring anything is, if required, interoperable with GOV.UK in the future.

This has already proved useful as the Government Digital Service have been developing a ‘National Statistics Release Calendar’ tool as part of the planning for the proposed closure of the Publications Hub (www.statistics.gov.uk) and we will look to extend the prototype by adding this in to demonstrate how ONS and GOV.UK might share data via the API (though this isn’t part of the ODI deliverables – we are just hoping to take advantage of the timing).

This prototype is also allowing the Digital Publishing team to implement recommendations that have come from multiple rounds of user testing and expert advice regarding the usability of ONS site as well as implement the new browse navigation agreed during the taxonomy user testing. We’ll also be having our first go at a responsive layout as well which is something we will want to build upon.

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