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The value of feedback: Developing our Open Data Strategy

Open data

Since the start of the year, we have published 7 open data releases of higher education information as part of our Open Data Strategy. We have also launched our dynamic new HE Student Data pages. These releases have showcased flexible formats and interactive functionality designed to make the data we publish more accessible to a wider range of users.

Central to our Open Data Strategy is establishing dialogue with users of our data to ensure that we are providing valuable information in user-friendly, intuitive and interactive formats.

Central to our Open Data Strategy is establishing dialogue with users of our data to ensure that we are providing valuable information in user-friendly, intuitive and interactive formats. In this blog, I want to reflect on the feedback we’ve received to date and outline how your feedback is shaping our ongoing plans.

How have we gathered feedback?

We have used a variety of methods to gather feedback on our releases. Each of the releases that we have published this year has included a feedback form allowing users to submit specific comments and suggestions. We have received further feedback on specific releases via social media, press articles, and through the brilliant data visualisations that were created within hours of our student data going live.

We have been working closely with the open data community to discuss and refine our activities.

We have also been working closely with the open data community to discuss and refine our activities. Most recently, I attended a roundtable event held in conjunction with the Cabinet Office which focused on maximising the value of ethnicity open data. This roundtable brought together universities, civil servants, HE sector agencies and non-governmental organisations to review the data available and to assess our releases and the gov.uk Ethnicity facts and figures service.

In addition to gathering feedback directly from users, we are also using sophisticated web analytics to track users' pathways through our site. These analytics provide an important measure of how efficiently users can find information and how thoroughly they interact with our tables. We are capturing granular information, including how often specific drop-down filters and radio buttons are used, and how frequently users download the source data and table views.

What has the feedback told us?

The feedback we have received has been very encouraging.

The feedback we have received has been very encouraging. We have been delighted to see so many creative individuals building data visualisations based on our releases - a clear indication of the impact and usability of our data. Subjective feedback has reinforced this, with users commenting on the ease of finding tables, the speed with which they have found specific pieces of data and the usefulness of the interactive features and csv downloads. There was particular praise for our new HE Student Data portal which collects together all of our student tables in a single place.

Alongside this user feedback, the analytics are showing high levels of engagement with the interactive tables (far higher than the number of downloads of our old Excel releases). Our three most frequently interacted with tables - recording over 7.5k interactions since launch - have been:

While the feedback has mostly been positive, it has also flagged up some important issues for us to address.

While the feedback has mostly been positive, it has also flagged up some important issues for us to address:

  • Users of our UK Performance Indicators stressed how much they missed the ability to download all the table data in a single download. This was especially problematic on the more complicated tables such as Table T1 and T3, where users had to repeatedly filter and download extracts of the data to recreate the full table.
  • Users were not finding the ‘Region of HE provider’ filter which is available on many of our student tables. This filter is hidden by default, only appearing when the user selects ‘England’ in the ‘Country of HE provider’ filter.
  • Fewer users were using the sort functionality on our tables than we anticipated.
  • Our ethnicity data uses different groupings to other organisations publishing equivalent data for other sectors, limiting meaningful comparison.

What are our next steps?

Given the positive response to our releases to date, we are working to expand what we make available and to provide more releases in interactive and flexible formats.

In response to this feedback, we have taken the following steps:

  • We have begun exploring options to provide a complete table download for each of our UKPI tables. We hope to trial this for our next cycle of UKPI releases.
  • For future releases, we will make the ‘region of HE provider’ visible by default so it is easily discoverable. 
  • We have added a visual cue to relevant columns to indicate that they are sortable. We have also added a ‘reset sort’ link below the table to allow users to restore tables to their default sort.
  • We are investigating the other ethnicity groupings being used and looking for opportunities to align our practice with data standards in other sectors.

Given the positive response to our releases to date, we are also working to expand what we make available and to provide more releases in interactive and flexible formats. We are developing plans to bring 2015/16 student data into our HE Student Data pages to allow for easier year-on-year comparison. Our aim is to have a three-year time series in place by February 2019.

Following the praise for our HE Student Data section, we will be unveiling our HE Provider Data section this Thursday (5 April). This section will initially include the results of the Higher Education – Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey, and will expand to include Estates data (on 10 May 2018) and Finance data (in March 2019).

With the increasing prominence of knowledge exchange in HE policy discussions, we are delighted to be able to publish vital HE-BCI data in an open, interactive and user-friendly format on 5 April 2018.

This Thursday’s release of HE-BCI data will include 13 interactive tables and charts detailing university’s and college’s knowledge exchange activities. With the increasing prominence of knowledge exchange in HE policy discussions, we are delighted to be able to publish this vital data in an open, interactive and user-friendly format.

How can you have your say?

Your feedback allows us to refine our open data plans based on a thorough understanding of user requirements. Feedback can also help us make incremental changes to the format of releases and the data we make available. We are therefore really keen to hear your feedback. You can either complete our feedback form or add your comments below this blog.

Complete our feedback form

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Izzy Budd

Open Data Champion