Frying pan…meet fire

I don’t mind a challenge. In fact professionally it is safe to say I seek them out. The simple fact I made a conscious decision to try and carve out a career as a digital strategist in the public sector was (pre-GDS) a pretty major challenge in of itself.

But…but… sometimes I miss stacking shelves at Tesco in Henleaze.

According to Tim Harford in the Financial Times yesterday;

“the ONS website is a national embarrassment.”

In his book ‘Facts are Sacred‘ former Guardian journalist and now Twitter data viz guru Simon Rogers said;

“ [the ONS website] is also the world’s worst website.”

Peter Wilby in the Guardian (in an otherwise really positive piece) pointed out;

“..the Office for National Statistics website is virtually unnavigable.”

Chris Giles, again at the FT, has been more succinct on a couple of occasions;

“the ONS website – aaaargh”

There was even a whole Public Affairs Select Committee (PASC) hearing in to the failures of the website which has recently released its report one of the major findings of which was;

“The Office for National Statistics website makes figures hard to find and statistics are often presented in a confusing way, for example, in formats which are not easily understandable.”

A recommendation from the report was simply;

“The ONS website must be improved.”

This week the Radio 4 show, More or Less, also joined in with a segment highlighting the issues with the site.

I have never worked anywhere where the website IS THE STORY. To say it is disconcerting is an understatement (almost all of these quotes have come up since I started at the beginning of May – only the Chris Giles quote pre-dates that!).

Noone has their heads in the sand. Improving the website is clearly a strategic imperative – I like to think hiring someone like me and certainly the fact they brought in Laura (my boss and the first Deputy Director of Digital Publishing) demonstrates that and to be honest I have rarely met a more committed and hard working team but the current reality is there for all to see at and particularly in a world where GOV.UK is ‘design of the year‘ it clearly is going to need a lot of work. I’m committed to making this work and delivering something that is something truly user focused and the nation can take pride in. That said sometimes I miss Tesco.


4 responses to “Frying pan…meet fire”

  1. Regardless of the team, it depends on how much time they spend fighting political fires, rather than the more publicly acknowledged strategic ones. I can’t imagine there’s a web or digital team in the country which isn’t acutely aware of their site’s failings! It’ll be interesting to see if you get the work prioritisation you ask for!

  2. Everyone is pretty much pulling in the same direction and there is support from the very top but there is a lot of legacy (systems, processes, politics) to overcome — everyone knows what the problems are — its finding practical solutions for them that is the challenge 🙂

  3. Cheers James – interesting stuff (though if anything the site is more of a muddle since 2009!) You certainly hit on a couple of ongoing issues around the usability in particular..

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