Involving users in the production and ongoing development of statistics

This is a case study for Principle V1: Relevance to users.

Background

Natural England runs the People and Nature Survey for England, which collects valuable data on how people in England experience and think about the environment. Users have been, and continue to be, actively involved in the development of the survey and the statistics.

The People and Nature Survey replaced the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey, which ended in 2019. In the last few years of the MENE survey, the team invested significant time and effort in building its user engagement capability and setting up user engagement activities. As a result, it developed a good understanding of the use of the statistics and established effective partnerships with a range of key users. This not only supported the development of the People and Nature Survey but also provided a strong foundation for user engagement activities for the new survey.

The analytical team employs a range of approaches to tell users about the statistics, to understand use of the statistics and to listen to users, some of which are summarised below.

Informing users and facilitating collaboration

The latest People and Nature survey statistics are announced and promoted through social media, including the Natural England Chief Scientist’s Twitter account (@NEChiefSci) and the Defra official statistics Twitter account (@DefraStats). The team informs users and other stakeholders new data releases, survey changes and publications through a stakeholder mailing list.

The team has launched a dedicated user hub for the People and Nature Survey, which provides information about the survey and brings together a number of resources for users, including links to published statistics and data, the survey questionnaire and information about MENE. Through the hub, users can sign up to the mailing list. When signing up, users must complete several basic questions about themselves, which allows the team to collect anonymised information on the background and interests of users.

The hub also provides an option for users to express interest in joining the ‘user research group’. This collaborative group provides a platform for researchers and other users of the People and Nature and the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) datasets to share ideas and tools, collaborate, disseminate work and keep up-to-date with current thinking. The aim of the user research group is to maximise the use and value of the data and also ensures Natural England is aware of how data from the People and Nature Survey and MENE is being used, and what data and outputs are most valuable to users.

Building on the success of earlier user engagement

Supporting and encouraging use of statistics

The team has supported and encouraged use of the MENE statistics in specific ways. For example, it ran training sessions for Natural England staff. Most attendees were familiar with the MENE statistics but had never done their own analysis of the raw data. The training session gave them the confidence to undertake their own analysis, increasing understanding and use of the data within the department. The team also developed new interactive tools and outputs, including a local authority dashboard which allows users to access and integrate local-level data, and a visual story map summarising and reflecting on 10 years of MENE data.

Partnerships with users outside government

The MENE statistics team collaborated with several external organisations, including a National Outdoors for All Working Group which included non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the National Trust and the University of Derby and the University of Exeter, to add new questions to the MENE survey. The questions for the Nature Connection Index were added in 2015 because of this collaboration. This ongoing partnership has boosted the visibility of the MENE statistics and has led to the publication of scientific papers in high-profile academic journals. Regular bilateral meetings with key users, including the Working Group, continue to form a core part of the team’s user engagement for the People & Nature Survey.

Promoting and raising awareness of the statistics

In September 2019, the team ran a user conference to promote the final set of MENE statistics. This was attended by 80 users from inside and outside government. The event gave Natural England the opportunity to tell users directly about the latest statistics and the event encouraged interaction between users. Feedback from users was very positive and the team made contact with several new users.

Understanding users and uses of the statistics

To meet potential users and expand its engagement, the team attended a series of external conferences. This provided insight on the extent to which the MENE statistics are used and helped them discover previously unknown uses; for example, a non-governmental organisation had used the MENE statistics to reformulate a strategy. This understanding of wider use and value strengthened the case for the new People and Nature Survey.

Learning from MENE and involving users in the development of the new survey

In the last year of MENE data collection, Natural England commissioned an independent external review of the MENE survey to ensure that the People and Nature Survey built on what it learnt from MENE and asks the right questions to meet future evidence and policy needs. The review had two parts:

  • Exploring methodological approaches for the new survey (shifting from a face-to-face to an online survey); and
  • Developing a better understanding the value of MENE data and statistics to users

The team held user events, workshops and bilateral meetings and carried out a survey of key users to gather views on how the MENE statistics and data are currently used and how they could be improved. It engaged with over 100 stakeholders from central government, local government, academia, and conservation organisations.

The outcome of the review fed into the requirements for the People and Nature Survey. But the team also made immediate changes to MENE reporting based on stakeholder feedback, including developing a dashboard for local authorities and a story map.

Summary

This case study demonstrates the benefits of investing resources in user engagement activities and making it a central, ongoing part of producing statistics. By engaging with users in different ways, the team was able to capture a range of feedback, which ensures that the statistics meet the needs of all types of users.

Find out more

For an example of how the analytical team involved users in the development of the People & Nature Survey to generate insight on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, see the companion case study V4: Meeting user need for timely data and insight by adapting an existing survey.

Meeting user need for timely data and insight by adapting an existing survey

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

Background

Natural England runs the People and Nature Survey for England, which collects valuable data on how people in England experience and think about the environment. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the analytical team published timelier data and adapted the survey to collect additional information on the impact of the pandemic.

Adding insight on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

The restrictions imposed by the UK government to manage the pandemic impacted people’s experience of nature in England. During the most severe restrictions in early 2020 it was illegal “for a person to leave the place where they are living without a reasonable excuse” (see the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020). Recognising the value of the People and Nature Survey data, and responding to strong stakeholder demand for relevant, timely insight, the analytical team developed a set of monthly early (interim) indicators. These were published a month after the first data were collected. (The team also publishes a fuller quarterly dataset.) To measure the impact of COVID-19, new questions were added to survey from May 2020 to gather information on topics like the amount of time spent in gardens and changes in behaviour and well-being under lockdown.

Statistics in development

All statistics and data from the People & Nature Survey are being released as experimental statistics and are developed under the guidance of the Head of Profession for Statistics, in line with the Code.

User engagement was a critical part of the development process. The team selected the set of interim indicators and developed the new COVID-19 questions in consultation with stakeholders from across government, academia and non-governmental organisations. It gathered comments and feedback in a range of ways, for example, by presenting the proposed indicators to a stakeholder group across the conservation sector convened by Natural England policy teams. The team had to start thinking early about the case for going live with the survey (before the pandemic) and had many conversations with academic users, among others, about the survey in that context. Ideas for new COVID-19 questions also came out of those discussions. Some testing of the indicators was done with users before the first results were published in June 2020.

As a result of this proactive engagement the team strengthened links with known users, such as analysts in the Office for National Statistics who peer reviewed the interim indicators statistics bulletin and provided advice on dissemination. But the team also established links with new academic users who they had not previously heard from.

The team is clear with stakeholders that the interim indicators are a work in progress and continues to invite user feedback on the statistics. The statistics landing page and bulletins are transparent about the experimental status of the statistics and the benefits of the ‘statistics in development’ approach, for example: “The Experimental Statistic status allows for the noteworthy change in data collection methodology between MENE (face to face interviews) and the People and Nature Survey (online panel) to be fully evaluated before a planned transition to National Statistics designation.” (MENE is the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment, the People & Nature Survey’s predecessor.)

The interim indicators provide users with additional opportunities to collaborate on the ongoing development of the People and Nature Survey experimental statistics. For instance, there is a newly formed group of academic researchers who wish to collaborate on the use of People and Nature Survey data, including for COVID-19 research. This widens the scope for cross-analysis of data and delivering greater insight into people’s engagement with the natural environment.

Summary

This case study demonstrates how the analytical team has successfully developed new experimental statistics and adapted existing processes to deliver timely data and insight. It highlights the benefits of creating opportunities for collaboration with users and involving users in the ongoing development of the statistics.

Find out more

For additional information on how the Natural England analytical team engages with users, see the companion case study V1: Involving users in the production and development of statistics.