52: Week Seventeen

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Lots of meetings this week but it was one of those rare occasions when for the most part they seemed useful and interesting. This amazing occurrence happened the same week I learned that Vergaderziekte means “meeting sickness” in Dutch which I think I have suffered from more than once in the past but maybe this kind of week is the antidote?

The highlight of Monday was a workshop to try and identify some ‘products’ to help better explain some of the confusion around our inflation statistics. Given my complete lack of a head for (proper) stats I find these meetings both fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. Sometimes I feel like I leave these meetings knowing less than I did when I entered but while that was the case in this one as well I realised I wasn’t alone! I also could see a pretty neat narrative throughout the discussions that will hopefully lend themselves to a nice package of digital ‘stuff’. There is a real desire within the organisation to improve communications and understanding – sometimes I get so caught up in concerns about the technology and infrastructure I forget how much we can do anyway if we just have a mix of the right people and some time (and a bit of money!).

Tuesday started with a discussion about web publishing & content management. Now anyone who reads this blog knows I have a bit of history with CMSs and could lay claim to them being my specialist subject. That said there is something a bit Godfather III about things at the moment;

“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.”

One of the reasons I took this job was that responsibility for web publishing and the CMS wasn’t a part of it. It still isn’t but as our platform is at the core of every discussion about what we are able to do in the future I can’t really avoid it. I also, you’ll be surprised to know, have some strong opinions on this topic🙂 There is a bit of a Discovery (in the GDS lexicon) project going on at the moment just investigating options and inevitably I want to have my say but also I find myself drawn to it as I do, for my sins, really find the intricacies of this stuff interesting.

The second of our ‘digital days’ took place on Wednesday down at our Titchfield office. After a shaky start (the room we advertised to come to didn’t actually exist!) it was a good day – there was a good mix of queries and I had a particularly enlightening chat with someone who works with our interviewers about how they might use social media. I think there is something potentially amazing that could be done with this small army of our staff who are actually out there meeting and interacting with people – getting them to embrace digital openly would be a real revolution – wildly outside of my remit but nevertheless it keeps sparking ideas in quiet moments.

Something I find a little bit amusing in this new role is the extent to which I find myself associated with ‘open data’. Given my history of railing against linked data and semantic web stuff it does seem a little like karmic retribution! I am now on two broadly open data focused working groups and am increasingly involved at a pretty senior level of the major open data project coming out of the organisation. Thankfully if only by osmosis I have retained a fair bit of knowledge about the environment and am picking up more all the time. It has to be said it does somehow make more sense when you work for an organisation where data is central to its very existence.

Another working group I am a part of aims to provide a kind of peer review service to improve the quality of our ‘statistical bulletins’ (for example) which are the key output for the organisation really (alongside the data itself). As a complete ‘lay person’ in these things I really enjoy these meetings as it gives me a great insight into the challenges the teams face in producing this content. The language used in statistics is so precise and specialised it really is difficult for it to be ‘translated’ to plain English without a degree of ambiguity being added – or worse the accusation of bias or politicising the outputs. I really admire the work these teams are putting in to things – I think we are a long way from where we’d like to be but I’m confident people want to make it work. It is safe to say the limitations in the platform (again) and the format we push the content out in doesn’t help. It is very much the classic page to screen situation and (I think) needs to be re-thought from the ground up as a digital first publication to really give the content a chance to work better.

A massive plus today was the launch of this interactive graphic explaining the UK economy and our role in it. On the surface alone I think it is a love bit of work and that our designers and front-end dev did an amazing job but when when you realise the additional work that went in to making it work in our CMS then it becomes an heroic achievement!

Apart from popping in to do some interviews next week I am off now until September 2nd when I’ll be spending a couple of days picking the brains of folk at GDS on all manner of topics.

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