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Discovery / User research / User testing / Development

DfE Explore Education Statistics discovery.

We worked with the Data Insight and Statistics Division to explore the needs of users of the DfE official statistics, and made recommendations for how they can strengthen their statistics “offer”.

DfE Summary
Department for Education
Who they are
Responsible for children's services and education
What they do
Their vision is to provide world-class education, training and care for everyone, whatever their background.
UK Wide


Hive IT carried out a 12-week research project to understand the needs of users and producers of the Department for Education’s statistics, and to identify options for modernising the dissemination of those statistics.

The aims were to:

  • Explore who uses of DfE's published statistics and if their needs were being met.
  • Explore how users will find and digest those statistics.
  • Explore how to free statistics producers’ time and help them tell clear and coherent stories with the data.
  • Explore how to reduce the need for data requests by publishing more flexible data outputs.


We completed detailed user research and testing both inside and outside of the DfE. We encouraged people across the organisation to engage with the project, working closely with the DfE product owner.

Our findings were detailed in a comprehensive report, making clear recommendations for future steps, along with small, incremental changes that could be implemented for quick wins.

“Over the last 12 weeks Hive IT have been working with statisticians in the DfE to take a fundamental look at the needs of users… The work has also given us some helpful practical next steps to take. It has been good to hear about how valuable many users find DfE statistics and data; much of what we already do meets the needs of a range of users. But it is clear we have more to do to modernise and to more fully meet users’ needs.”
Neil McIvor (DfE Chief Data Officer and Chief Statistician)


The project was run using the GDS (Government Digital Service) agile methodology for Discovery projects, working in weekly sprints. As part of the project, we set up ‘Project Hubs’ at both our Hive IT offices and the Sheffield and Darlington DfE offices for visibility and to encourage engagement from other DfE departments and teams. They were regularly updated with information as we moved through the project.

We also filmed and shared Show and Tells for visibility, further fostering engagement across the DfE. We worked hard to created a ‘One Team’ ethos, encouraging an open, honest and collaborative working style through our defined Ways of Working.

image of project wall
Everything is up on the wall for the whole team to see at all times through the project


The Discovery Project was broken down into 4 phases and ran from the 19th March - 12th June.

The phases of the project were as follows:

  • Phase 1 - Internal research with the DfE teams producing statistics. This phase concentrated on bringing Hive up to speed with the work that the Data Insight and Statistics Division do. We held workshops in Sheffield and visited Darlington to complete contextual research.
  • Phase 2 - Internal and external research with statistics users. This was an intense user research phase, exploring how DfE statistics are used both internally and externally by organisations and individuals. Over this phase we conducted face-to-face interviews, contextual research and digital interviews.
  • Phase 3 - User testing and best practices for statistics production and dissemination. We asked users to engage with systems that had been identified as potential ways to improve the dissemination of statistics. Analysis of best practice focused around technical reviews of existing tools and systems that are currently available within the marketplace, as well as forming part of the user testing.
  • Phase 4 - Discovery wrap up and Alpha phase definition. Phase 4 was about consolidating research to form our recommendations. This culminated in a final report that was delivered to the DfE along with supporting research.
images of User research techniques
From group sessions to remote user interviews, using multiple techniques to give the project the broadest perspective

High level findings

Our key findings can be summarised as:

Many users are appreciative of, and dependent on, the statistics produced by the DfE. In the case of external expert consumers, their livelihoods often depend on them.

Users that consume these statistics, that need to check their interpretations, don't want to be a burden to DfE statisticians. They prefer to self-serve, saving time on both sides.

There is a commitment to modernisation within the DfE, due to the inflexibility of GOV.UK as a platform for disseminating statistics and time spent on routine tasks such as quality assurance. All users want to customise the data according to their requirements. They need consistency in data, ease of use, to view historical data alongside current data, and to be made aware of changes to datasets or when new publications are released.

image of High Level Findings Through Post Its
Making sense of our findings through the medium of post-its

Our advice

With the knowledge that the Discovery phase provided, our recommendations were to:

  • Undertake an Alpha project to change internal processes to further develop existing work. This includes automating routine analysis, and making the processes more reusable. These should then be used throughout the department.
  • Undertake a separate second Alpha project to create a new platform for access to and consumption of statistics. This should make the statistics easier to find, access, navigate and understand.
  • Implement a number of smaller changes, external to the Alpha projects, that will have significant impact.
image of the finding presentation
The team presented back the recommendations complete with powerpoint and data visualisations.


We completed weekly retrospectives to refine and improve our ways of working, and to identify and resolve issues. At the end of the project, we took the time to review the overall project with a final project retrospective.

Whilst there were things that we should adapt in future discovery projects, the overwhelming finding of this retrospective was that it was an enjoyable project made so by the drive, investment and belief of the whole team.

Our ways of working fostered a ‘one team’ atmosphere where everyone felt valued, heard and able to talk freely about problems. This is something we should try to replicate on future projects.

list of the discovery team
Discovery team members listed for all to see

The finished product

We’ve talked at a high level about our research, findings and recommendations here. More details can be found in the DfE Dissemination Discovery Report.

diagram of the core principles for organisational change
Core principles for organisational change