This is a case study for Principle V4: Innovation and improvement.

The National Travel Survey (NTS) team at the Department for Transport (DfT) has implemented a series of innovations and improvements during 2018/19. Some of these have been simple to implement but have a significant impact, while others have provided opportunities for the team to learn new skills that will provide long-term quality and efficiency benefits, for example, learning to use R Studio to automate data processing methods.

Making efficiencies has freed up analytical resource to make improvements in other areas, leading to a positive snowball effect. A user-first approach has been adopted, with all innovations being about how to further meet users’ needs.

Recent NTS innovations and improvements include:

  • Improving the NTS questionnaire following a feedback exercise, to check the relevance of NTS questions and the burden placed on respondents. As many NTS questions are still required by users, to make space for new topics, questions are rotated so that they are asked every other year. This ensures the survey length is not extended whilst still meeting user needs. New questions undergo extensive cognitive and panel testing to ensure participants understand them and that they collect the data users want
  • Setting up an innovative NTS Panel, consisting of NTS participants who agree to be contacted for follow-up research. This allows additional, smaller pieces of research to be conducted while not making the full NTS interview longer. The panel can target a sub-section of the population (e.g. people who cycle) where it would be disproportionately burdensome to ask everyone in the full NTS. Panel responses can also be linked back to original NTS responses, to greatly enhance the utility of the data
  • Collaborating with other analysts, including those outside of Government, to produce NTS analytical reports, demonstrating the breadth of information available in the NTS. By making the dataset accessible via the UK Data Service, and the ONS Secure Research Service, far more analysis can be undertaken than could be done by the NTS team alone
  • Advance letter and incentive experiments investigating how to boost response rates
  • Methodological improvements to collect walking data more accurately
  • Conducting a Discovery to explore whether developing a digital NTS diary could reduce respondent burden and increase data quality
  • Designing interactive tables and revising the data table categories so that it is easier for users to find the data they are searching for on GOV.UK
  • Publishing ad-hoc analyses, so they are accessible to all and enable the reuse of NTS data
  • Using R Studio to provide regular standard errors and confidence intervals for NTS statistics and ad-hoc analyses
  • Producing a user-friendly quality report to inform users about the quality of the NTS data, including sampling, methodology, quality assurance procedures and confidentiality
  • Making efficiency improvements to NTS data processing methods to greatly increase levels of automation using R, SQL and more advanced Excel functions

These improvements have led to increased engagement with a range of NTS stakeholders:

  • The publication of ad-hoc tables has drawn interest from academics and transport planners who have used the data as the basis for conducting further analysis in collaboration with DfT
  • The analytical reports produced in collaboration with external authors have provided a fresh look at what the NTS can provide and received mainstream and specialist press coverage
  • The NTS Panel has resulted in new demand from policy teams, with the team now looking forward to exploring these new research topics

The team is also testing the use of MailChimp as a new way to keep users up-to-date with NTS statistics and developments through a regular newsletter. The team hopes that this will increase its engagement with NTS users even further.

This example shows how the NTS team keeps up to date with developments that might improve NTS statistics for users, is transparent about its forthcoming development plans, and engages with users to get their feedback on plans to better meet their needs. It also shows how the NTS team collaborates with expert analysts to enhance value and insight, creates efficiencies by innovating methods and quality processes, and seeks to improve users’ experience by finding new ways to engage with them and enhancing the range of statistics that it makes available.