Wrapping up my time with ONS Digital

I’m coming to the end of my project with the ONS Digital team. In my final blog post I thought I’d briefly summarise my work over the last few months.

Andy asked me to come and spend some time working with the team to offer advice that would help ensure that ONS is adopting open data publishing best practices.

While the majority of the team have been focused on developing the data discovery alpha, we agreed that it was important to have some guidance that could help inform plans for the beta and beyond.

My first step was to develop a set of open data publishing principles that will help inform how the team approaches publishing statistical data.

Using that as my framework I’ve been contributing to ongoing discussions around the alpha, whilst developing additional guidance and recommendations in a number of specific areas.

A big part of those recommendations is around how to use existing metadata standards to publish statistical data. This has developed into a broad “metadata framework” that identifies the important metadata that should be published alongside statistical datasets, downloads, dimensions and code lists.

That framework will be refined during the beta, but hopefully has all the important groundwork in place.

Another important discussion within the team has been about how to best present data in context not only on the ONS website but also in a way that can be packaged for reuse and archiving elsewhere. So I’ve also spent time exploring ways to package data and metadata, writing guidance describing how to make metadata discoverable, and a surprising amount of time thinking about CSV file design!

There are some specific challenges around publishing statistical data  that require some thought about how best to structure and present that information in both human and machine-readable formats. For example, all of the annotations and footnotes currently included in spreadsheets need to be available to users that are consuming data in other formats.

Overall I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with the ONS Digital team. I’ve done my best to provide a useful external perspective that also reflects the needs of the wider open data community. It’s been fascinating to observe the user research process and watch the results guide the evolution of the alpha.

If you haven’t already then you should definitely try it! I’m looking forward to seeing how the work progresses in the future.