The Eurostat Experience

 Guest post from Crispin Merriman, Digital Content Manager

A colleague and I recently went to a data support meeting at Eurostat in Luxembourg. This was our first visit to the Eurostat offices, which in themselves are quite an experience. You walk into the office, which looks like an ordinary office building, until you walk across a bridge to the meeting room and notice that the offices are within a rather large shopping centre. This seemed strange to me at first, until lunchtime came and the realisation hit me that you have some of the best baguette and panini shops in Luxembourg just a minute away me. A very clever idea indeed!

The first day kicked off with an introduction to our Eurostat colleagues and we quickly moved onto talking about the new Eurostat website, including what they’ve built so far and what they have left to do before it goes live. Interestingly, some of the first points they made were that the software they used to develop the website had to be open source, and that they developed a concept which they could then test with internal and external users and make gradual improvements to. Both of these details were reassuring, there is a well known tendency in the past for big public sector organisations (not just in the UK) to build custom software and stay away from approaches that build products incrementally.

Their user testing also raised some interesting findings, ones that could be just as valuable and relevant when considering our own website:

  • Terminology was often very technical which meant that users didn’t know whether the content was related to their topic of interest or not.
  • Browsing data and understanding the difference between different data formats was difficult.
  • Search wasn’t easily providing the information users required.

They’ve found that organising all formats of data into one place, introducing the ability to browse by theme throughout the website (including the data) and some significant improvements to their search function have so far helped to resolve these issues. The feedback sounds very familiar, so it’s going to be useful to see these improvements in action when the new website goes live.

We also got to see some more presentations on the Eurostat mobile apps, which in total have been downloaded over 22,000 times, and customisable widgets that Eurostat have been developing for users and National Statistics Institutes to embed on their own websites.

At the beginning of the second day it was time for our presentation. We didn’t have much luck with technology – not being able to connect our laptop to the projector or move the slides to a USB stick meant that the presentation become more of a live demo. However, we did manage to give some insight into data storytelling at ONS and a sneak peek of some new interactive products that we’ve been working on.

Overall it was great to see what our European colleagues are working on and what we’re all doing to improve how our users can engage with our data. It was reassuring to see that we are not alone in many of the problems we’re trying to overcome.

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