Learnings on data from Service Design in Gov Conference
I attended the final day of the Service Design in Government conference, all about designing and commissioning public services. Ade Adewunmi, a Data Transformation Consultant, previously to be Head of Data Infrastructure at GDS, why it’s important to share data across government, and highlighted the challenges to doing so.
One key challenge is that data that doesn’t include context around how it was collected, can be difficult to reuse. Taken out of context, the data can be misinterpreted.
This keynote talk set the tone and theme for the day, people inside and outside government shared their experience on collecting, sharing and using data to create services that work for citizens. This is what I took away from the day:
What we mean by data
When I talk about data I’m talking about information: facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis. We can collect data on people doing things, like when they use services.
People create data when carrying out activities, for instance people applying for driving licenses creates data about the number of people doing so.
Make data more accessible
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) gave a talk on the redesign of their website. ONS are experts on collecting and sharing data, as the largest independent producer of official statistics in the UK. During their website redesign they uncovered which statistics people were looking for. The design team (Benjy Stanton and Keiran Forde) set about finding ways to deliver that data in the easiest, most understandable way possible.
At the heart of this design challenge was the aim to democratise the use of the ONS statistics, making it more accessible and available to others.
They shared that the gender pay gap is one of the most searched pieces of data on their website. During the redesign they worked to ensure that their most hunted for data was surfaced to the people looking for it.
Give the context of the data
ONS bulletins are important as they tell people how the data was collected. Researchers want to share information on things like small sample sizes, which may give people an indication into how to interpret and use the data.
The design team realised that bulletins can be confusing and long for users to digest. The key parts of the data can be buried in information not relevant to the reader. So they structured the new bulletins differently; the content is now around task-based headings.
Consider if you’re collecting data at the users expense
Are you collecting data that you don’t really need, at your users expense? This is one the questions that designers Helen Spires and Lindsay Green at NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA) asked themselves, during their project designing an eligibility checker for free prescriptions.
The element of the prescription experience they couldn’t change is the form that people fill out when they receive their prescription. The back of the form, there are 13 tick boxes, users must declare why they are receiving free prescriptions. This part of the form is confusing, and if people fill it out wrong, they can receive a fine for £50. When designing services, we must ask ourselves, is the collection of this data more important that the user having a friction free experience? In the case of NHS BSA, it was decided that knowing why people are receiving free prescriptions was important. But this is a consideration we should all be asking ourselves, do we need this data? Are the positives of collecting it larger than the negatives?
Make best use of qualitative data
Since we’ve started delivering more services online, we have access to data that we haven’t had before. Hackney Council have been giving out market permits since before the internet was widely used. Before permits were online, the council might know how many they’d photocopied or received that year. Since market permits are now available online, it’s much easier to understand how many people are downloading and applying for them.
But we don’t know from the quantitative data what the experience of that application is. How their market stall is going. What their future plans are for growing their business. That’s when qualitative research comes in. User research, where people can give a more rich picture into their experience of services is key. And the sharing of that data can also help to inform the design of services collectively across government. That’s why Snook, in collaboration with Hackney Council have created a user research library, to encourage qualitative data reuse. Lucy Stewart and Mathew Trivett explained how user research can be stored, accessed and used across local authorities, government, agencies and beyond.
Plan for your data being hacked
When collecting people’s data, we must consider what will happen when we are hacked. When we are hacked, not if we are hacked. Once the data is collected, you and your organisation responsible for it. This is why when collecting data, we have to ask: is the benefit of collecting the data larger than the negative impact of it being leaked? Ade’s example was the recent wifi enabled vibrator hack. An engineer decided to collect data: people’s email addresses, when they use their vibrator, their preferred settings. Did they consider what it would be mean for individuals when that data was available for all? And did users give fully informed consent to that data being collected and analysed? Was it worth it?