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Lost in France: Negotiating Data Submission Maps and Language

There is a small town in France, nestled in the beautiful countryside of the Poitou-Charentes region and around 30 miles south of Poitiers, that is truly remarkable.

It is remarkable in a sense that were you ever to follow the road signs to ‘Centre Ville’ you would find yourself caught in an endlessly bewildering and frustrating maze that seems to have no end. The signs feel like they are designed so that you will never quite get to the centre, but instead you will come agonisingly close before being directed back out onto the desolate, almost apocalyptic ring road (think Mad Max but with less responsible drivers).

Quality rules can at times feel complicated  - but sometimes they just need some context and explaining.

You might think to abandon your car and make a dash for it on foot, chasing down the yards, sweat pouring in the stifling French sun, mind fixed on the midday cut-off when the whole town will inevitably shut down for a two-hour lunch … you might think to do that, but you would be mistaken to do so.

The adjoining roads require permits and the only available parking is found in the centre and therefore there is nowhere to abandon your vehicle in the maze.  There are only two possible outcomes and therefore only two possible choices:

  • Abandon hope. Accept your defeat, abort the mission, and hot-foot it to the supermarché for a coffee and to giggle at the literal French translation of Hollywood films.
  • Fight on. Steel yourself for what is to come, stock up on fluids and patience, energy and determination, and keep going back around until you succeed.

If you choose the second option (and you must), then you are a hero in my eyes. I rarely have the perseverance nor the aptitude for following signs closely.

Whenever I am training or consulting with provider colleagues involved in the submission of HESA data, I am reminded of this town when we talk about negotiating the quality rules underpinning the collections. As with the signposts, quality rules can at times feel complicated or confusing – sometimes they necessarily are, other times they just need some context and explaining.

At HESA we have recognised this struggle, and, for a number of years, have worked tirelessly to provide ‘plain English’ translation of those rules which are unavoidably complicated.

This closely aligns to our principles of simplifying (as best we can) the extensive quality assurance process all parties must undertake to ensure the accuracy and validity of the datasets.

HESA strives to provide 'plain English' explanations of those collection rules which are unavoidably complicated.

It is a principle that Data Futures will progress quality assurance further, with a data collection system designed to better facilitate our understanding, speed up the process of negotiating the rules, and integrate our quality assurance processes into a single portal.

In the meantime, while they might feel incomprehensible at times, the signs are usually always right, so my advice to you, based on my years of experience is this: become an expert in French town planning and get a good understanding of the French language.

Keep following the signs but don’t forget your surroundings and the context -  but eventually you will see the sign that reads ‘Centre-ville de stationnement non-résident’ - and when you do, take that sharp right. I wish I could say that when you succeed and arrive you’ll be greeted by a beautiful town square, a row of well turned out restaurants and bars, boutique shops, and reprieve from the sun and your ordeal.

In reality, it’s not a particularly exceptional or pretty place to visit – almost an anomaly in the French landscape –  but you are left with an undoubted sense of achievement, a job well done, and no parking fines.

Good luck with your submissions in the coming weeks, and should you need any help with directions or translation then please get in touch with the Training or Data Policy & Governance teams – it’s what we’re here for.

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Daniel Kidd

Dan Kidd

Head of Training & Consultancy