Visual first – Visual.ONS

Visual representations of statistical data are attractive – and worth to build an own website with nothing but (info)graphs and maps … and more behind it!

ONS did it:


‘The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and is the recognised national statistical institute for the UK. Visual.ONS is a website exploring new approaches to making ONS statistics accessible and relevant to a wide public audience. The site supports the UK Statistic Authority’s publicly stated intention of “making data, statistics and analysis more accessible, engaging and easier to understand”.
The site will be a home to a variety of different content, including infographics, interactive visualisations and short analysis, exploring data from a range of ONS outputs. It is neither a replacement nor a rebuild of the current ONS website which continues to be the home of ONS’ regular outputs and statistics.’

So far the statement of ONS.


More than pictures

Behind the graphs you can find lots of interactive tools.
A calculator to find out life expectancy is one example:


Great! And the graphs and interactive tools can be embedded into other websites.

Timeline of Statistics


In 2010 the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) launched the getstats campaign in order to bring statistics to various groups like general public, journalists or teachers and ‘to increase statistical literacy and … to raise the profile of statistics and its increasing relevance in today’s data-rich society’.

getstats offers a lot of interesting resources, One of these is …

The Timeline


‘Statistics is about gathering data and working out what the numbers can
tell us. From the earliest farmer estimating whether he had enough grain
to last the winter to the scientists of the Large Hadron Collider confirming
the probable existence of new particles, people have always been making
inferences from data. Statistical tools like the mean or average summarise
data, and standard deviations measure how much variation there is within a
set of numbers. Frequency distributions – the patterns within the numbers
or the shapes they make when drawn on a graph – can help predict future
events. Knowing how sure or how uncertain your estimates are is a key part
of statistics.
Today vast amounts of digital data are transforming the world and the
way we live in it. Statistical methods and theories are used everywhere, from
health, science and business to managing traffic and studying sustainability
and climate change. No sensible decision is made without analysing the data.
The way we handle that data and draw conclusions from it uses methods
whose origins and progress are charted here’ (in this timeline).
Julian Champkin
Significance magazine

Timeline PDF

Discussing Official Statistics and Open Data in UK

Committees discussing official statistics

In UK te committees of the House of Commons and the House of Lords  examine various issues in detail. Select committees operate largely by an investigative process and launch inquiries on many topics, among them official statistics.

Especially  ‘the Public Administration Select Committee is scrutinising the issue of statistics and their use in Government by means of ten short studies. They are:

1. The operation of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007
2. The work of the Office for National Statistics
3. Statistics and the regions and nations of the UK
4. Communicating and publishing statistics
5. Migration statistics
6. Transparency, open data and statistics
7. The Census
8. Budgeting for statistics across Government
9. Statistics for the economy and public finances
10. The comprehensiveness of official statistics. ‘

Communicating and publishing statistics

The report about Communicating and publishing statistics published in May 2013 gives interesting insights in  questions and topics  like
– Finding official statistics
– Presenting and explaining statistics
– Statistics on demand and
– Misuse of official statistics.

Screenshot-1For those who follow the discussions about disseminating official statistics there’s nothing really new in this paper. We read well known analysis and demands. Till now nobody has found the definitive and unique answer and solution to all the questions because official statistics embraces so many topics and serves so many different users with a multitude of different needs.

But for a lot of use cases there aready exist excellent solutions and offers: visualisations, interactive statistics, user friendly database access etc. This blog gives many examples.

Moreover, official statistics are in front of the open data initiatives. Most of the data sets in the open data portals of governments come from the natonal statistical institutes and developments in new semantic data formats are also on the agenda of these institutes.

Inquiry into statistics and open data in Government

And now till September 2013 ‘the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) is conducting an inquiry into statistics and open data in Government, with a focus on the progress of the Government in implementing its Open Data strategy.’

Screenshot-2Questions are (among others):
4. How can those engaged in open data, and those engaged in producing
government statistics work together effectively to produce new data?
6. Is open data presented well and of adequate quality?
a. Are the formats of the data being published accessible, useable and
understandable to the public?
b. What metadata is needed to make releases useful?
c. Who will use the data released?
8. Which datasets are the most important?
a. What are the best examples of data being made open and resultant benefits to business or society?

The above mentioned issues and Questions paper provides a good introduction into the work done in this field.


StatsUserNet  launched in February 2012 by the Royal Statistical Society is part of a more or less institutionalised discussion about official statistics in UK.

statsusernet‘Launched in February 2012 with support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the UK Statistics Authority, it now has over 1,700 members signed up to around 25 communities of interest. Members come from a wide range of sectors, including central and local government, academia, business, the voluntary sector and the general public.

‘StatsUserNet has a number of aims which include:

  • To enable users to exchange information and experience freely on all statistical topics
  • To enable communication between users and producers of official statistics (producers are increasingly announcing their outputs on StatsUserNet and actively seeking feedback)
  • To involve users in the planning process and strategy for official statistics, with the “Consultations” community being used for gathering views on plans for changes to statistical outputs
  • To provide support to wider user activities, including User Groups
  • Increasing awareness of official statistics and their use more widely.

A variety of topic-based communities is already up and running and has hosted discussions on high-profile areas such as inflation measures,national well-being, the Census and health.’


Infographics and ISOTYPE and NSIs


Good infographics for statistical matters do not only need diagrams (like histograms or bar charts) but also lots of icons and symbols helping to illustrate the topic.

A pioneer in this field was Otto Neurath.


‘ISOTYPE – the International System Of TYpographicPicture Education – … was an early infographical form, originated in the 1930s by Austrian philosopher and curator Otto Neurath “as a symbolic way of representing quantitative information via easily interpretable icons”.’ (Information is beautiful)

Animals life

More about transforming data into visualisations also in Marie Neuraths ‘The Transformer: Principles of Making Isotype Charts’ 

2013-06-16_marieneurathtransformerToday: ONS as an example of good visualisations for statistics

Statistical Agencies use visualisations in their daily information work. During the UNECE Work Session on the Communication of Statistics in Berlin (27-29 May 2013) Alan Smith OBE, Office for National Statistics (ONS,UK) gave a short overview and insight in this topic.

Two statements from his paper ‘Data Visualisation for the Citizen User: Making Better Graphics Quicker‘:

‘Data visualisation appeals to National Statistics Institutes (NSIs) because of its ability to engage users and increase the potential outreach of official statistics. But data visualisation is a broad field, with content types ranging from simple infographics through to sophisticated tools for exploratory data analysis. ……

More broadly, data visualisation offers NSIs an opportunity to exploit their expertise in formats which boost user engagement and readership. It also carries with it the highly desirable side effects of boosting relationships with the media and reputational benefits virtually everywhere else. A final note of caution, however, is that these visualisations should be centred on the expertise of the NSI, not based on a notion of style over content – others do that better.’



Evidence-based Decision Making

iPads (or any easily accessible device) with a dashboard application on it become more and more used tools (or Gadgets) for politicians.

Photograph: Andrew Parsons/ZUMA Press/Corbis

No 10 dashboard

David Cameron is (perhaps) looking at the ‘new custom-built “No 10 dashboard” web app’. With a little help from National Statistics ..

‘The app is hosted by the Government Digital Service (GDS) inside the Cabinet Office, and consists of a number of onscreen tiles, each of which can be selected to show more detail. One shows the latest growth figures and the FTSE index; one shows the prime minister’s diary; one shows the content of a number of Twitter feeds, including the official No.10 feed; another shows the insights from a daily poll by the polling group YouGov; another shows property and jobs data supplied by Adzuna, a UK startup that provides inputs about the number of jobs which are then blended with data from the Office for National Statistics.
Another tile shows regional economic data, while a final tile tracks the progress of key government initiatives such as the structural reform plan – the coalition’s scheme to cut the deficit – and compares government spending against budget targets.’
Source: The Guardian  

The dashboard idea is not a new one. Some (of much more) examples:

Statistics Finland …

… provides Findicator.


Ireland ist preparing



In Switzerland

Statistics Switzerland‘s website provides a set of indicators  measuring progress on the road to sustainable development.


In fact,

every Website of a statistical agency is more or less a dashboard for evidence-based decision making. See also OECD, IMF, World Bank



Personal Dashboards

There are also lots of individually configurable Dashboards based on dedicated search. So:

Squirro (Beta, on invitation)

trap!t, the sister company of Siri

etc and so on. Explore yourself!

.Is this a revival and a boost for evidence-based or data-based decision making?


Curious about abbreviations? Here’s (a new) one: Linked Open Government Statistical Data LOGSD.

LOGSD are statistical data official statistics agencies provide in a LOD format for reuse. And such reuse may combine (mash up) statistical LOD with other sources in the LOD Cloud.

For example: ONS

The Office of National Statistics ONS and others in UK are very active in this field. So for better accessing geographical metadata which are essential in presenting statistics:

‘The solution is to use as a single access point for discovery of geographic data, and to link from there to a geoportal (that is currently in development) where users could download the geographic products online. This goes most of the way to delivering the tools that users need to work with statistical data but there is also an opportunity to go further and provide geographic data as linked data, using the GSS codes that uniquely identify each geography to link the attributes from the different geographic products. Now, instead of a 9 character GSS identifier, each geography is given a URI that allows it to not only be uniquely identified but also makes it available online. We therefore end up with identifiers such as that only require users to change the GSS code at the end to get to the geographic information that they need.’


And here an example how LOD and statistical (not yet LOGSD) data could work together. It’s an experimental proof of concept using data from Mercer quality of living survey and Transparency International, enriching these data with more information from DBpedia and calculating correlations that lead to hypotheses about the data.

Heiko Paulheim from Technische Universität Darmstadt made this interesting experiment which illustrates how linking data works. Abstract of Paulheim’s study “Generating Possible Interpretations for Statistics from Linked Open Data’ :

Statistics are very present in our daily lives. Every day, new statistics are published, showing the perceived quality of living in different cities, the corruption index of different countries, and so on. Interpreting those statistics, on the other hand, is a difficult task. Often, statistics collect only very few attributes, and it is difficult to come up with hypotheses that explain, e.g., why the perceived quality of living in one city is higher than in another. In this paper, we introduce Explain-a-LOD, an approach which uses data from Linked Open Data for generating hypotheses that explain statistics. We show an implemented prototype and compare different approaches for generating hypotheses by analyzing the perceived quality of those hypotheses in a user study.’

Open Government Data Benchmark: FR, UK, USA

Finally there’s a very interesting comparison of OGD in three leading countries.

qunb did it . Have a look at this presentation.

1) There are lots of duplicates on OGD platforms


2) There are very few structured data yet



3) Apps are the real challenge

There are different strategies fostering the developmemt of Apps made with open data. The U.K. method seems to be one of the most productive


The presentation in French