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What we’ve learnt so far about how users find and use data

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We recently shared what we've learned so far about how government data is published. This has already helped us think about how we can improve the way we do this, but we still want to know more about users at the other end of the process - those that actually need to use the data to do their jobs.  

We've been speaking to these users to find out how they find, access (through downloads and APIs) and use data. So far we've carried out contextual interviews (where we speak to users in their home or workplace) as well as some sessions in our user research lab. is one of many places users go to look for data. We're interested in where else they go and how they work out whether the data they find is useful and reliable.

We have more sessions planned over the coming weeks, but we wanted to share some early patterns that we've already noticed.

Emerging patterns

So far we've noticed 3 key steps in the data finding process that were consistent across all participants.

  1. There are quite a few steps involved in finding data. Users usually begin their search on Google but, rather than looking for a specific dataset, they begin by searching using broad terms, such as "bus stops". They then refine their search by adding or taking words away from the original search terms. They might click a result and, if it's not right, return to Google to refine their search some more.
  1. Trust is important. Knowing which organisation created the data helps users get a sense of how reliable it's likely to be. This is more important than which website the dataset is listed on. Users also checked when the data was published and often visited the publisher’s website to look for more information about the data, including why and how it was published in the first place. This helped them assess its reliability, as well as its suitability for their purpose.
  1. Users download datasets to determine how useful they are. After that, they might read accompanying documentation or detailed metadata. The exact process varies from user to user, but it appears that most users need to explore raw data in this way in order to get a clear understanding of the value they might be able to get from it.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in our user research so far. These are early observations and are likely to evolve as our research continues. We'll share more findings as we go, along with our thinking on how we can make the process better for the users of government data.

If you haven’t yet shared your experience of using government data then please complete our short survey.

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