Prototyping a platform for data storytelling

In our team and beyond at ONS we talk a lot about ‘data storytelling’. In fact we even ran a little event about the topic that was pretty well received.

This work has been ramping up nicely over the last year or so with interesting projects taking place with information design, editorial, interactive data visualisations and social media – often with many of them collaborating for the good of the final output.

This work is now moving to the next level with Alan Smith, founder of the award winning ONS Data Visualisation centre, joining Digital Publishing to become Head of Digital Content and bring these teams much closer together to consolidate all the good work done and start to offer a much more joined up offering to our internal teams.

To date what we have really lacked is a way to properly showcase and package this work – especially to the users who fit within our ‘Inquiring Citizen’ persona. User research has suggested these people expect more content to be available on mobile devices and as they are unaware of the calendar driving most ONS statistical outputs they are looking for content to surface in context with topical stories of the day rather than our schedule.

Like all our users they also rely heavily on search and also on ‘social discovery’.

So working with the team at DXW, a specialist WordPress development company that had previously worked with ONS around the launch of the Well-being indicator work, we are building a small WordPress site that is mobile friendly (using a responsive theme) and are experimenting with integrating open source tools like pym.js from NPR and Chartbuilder (that was open sourced by Quartz) amongst other things.

A lot of thinking is going in to how we can make the content as optimised as possible for external search engines (by which of course we mean Google.) One thing I am looking at closely at the moment is the role of microdata – specifically – in making content more appealing to the robots running Google!

Every effort is going to be made to make all the content as socially shareable as possible. The integration of Twitter Cards should make that element more interesting than usual but I have to be honest I tend to agree with these GDS posts about the usefulness or not of share buttons for content.

We are working towards building something that strikes a balance between a CMS that allows the simple creation of new editorial stories but that can also support things like D3.js, embedded third party content (i.e. maps) and small scale, custom web apps. The likelihood is that this will end up being something made up of ‘small pieces, loosely joined’ with the WordPress site acting as the final repository of the joined up stories.

This is very much an experiment and the goal is NOT to create lots of new content for this site but recycle relevant existing content and present it in a way that opens it up to a wider audience.

This project should also provide us with useful intelligence that can feed in to the project to build a new ONS website – the challenge of providing our content in a responsive manner alone is a project in of itself and the role of content specifically aimed at the ‘inquiring citizen’ remains a question to be answered.

This is planned to be a quick project so I’ll keep the updates coming over the summer and we should have something to show in a few weeks.