This week I hopped on a train and made the short journey from Bristol to Exeter to join Jonathan in attending the Royal Statistical Society annual conference. The mission was to use it as an opportunity to engage with this large group of statistical experts and to get some feedback for the Beta website.
We had a little stand, a pull up banner, posters, flyers from Moo.com and a LOT of sweets. The conference venue was the Forum at Exeter University and was wonderful – albeit having the University on the top of a small mountain (well it felt like it) stretched my fitness as I carried all our materials up from the train station! The exhibition/poster area was light and airy with a convenient shop and decent wifi and the ONS stand was in prime position.
Unfortunately our ambitions were rather scuppered by the fact it was such a well organised and engaging event. For the most part delegates were busy elsewhere and politely disinterested in our presence – even the sweets were less of a draw than I’ve experienced at other events!
Not being from a statistical background and working at the ONS means I clearly had a bit of a blinkered view of the wider statistical community and this conference was quite an eye opener for me in to the breadth of the statistical profession. For many of the attendees the ONS seemed peripheral to their interests and I hadn’t really understood this going in so that was an important lesson.
The conversations we did have though were extremely enlightening – from the lack of awareness of just how much open data ONS has (and that it was truly open and free), to discussions about the need for bulk data downloads, conversations about APIs, spreadsheet standards and confusion about where to find certain statistics/data (ONS, GOV.UK, data.gov.uk..). Funnily enough many of the people we spoke to would more likely fall in to our ‘Information Forager’ rather than ‘Expert Analyst’ personas which was very unexpected with a particularly interesting chat with an analyst from Tesco massively reassuring us about some of the thinking and scenarios behind the ‘Forager’ persona.
Nick from the National Statistician’s Good Practice team gave a great talk about efforts across the Government Statistical Service to engage with users and improve the communication of statistics to a wider audience. There was a large audience for this session and some great questions and I’m afraid I derailed Nicks planned presentation a little as I chipped in with some answers. What was reassuring is that there were not any real surprises in the opinions from this really expert group – we may not have answers to some of the issues or opportunities people raised but we are working on them.
So in conclusion while our attendance didn’t really work out as I had hoped it was certainly worth the trip – I feel like I have learned something, gathered additional evidence for already identified user needs and made a handful of great new contacts who will certainly help us in the future.
Thanks to the RSS team.