Government agencies and institutions getting recognition for tech design

By David Donaldson

Wednesday July 5, 2017

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ efforts to make data more easily available have been recognised, with its ABS Stats apps being awarded the top gong in the government category at the Driven x Design 2017 tech design awards.

The award focuses on apps that have been updated to improve the user experience and take service to the next level.

The ABS Stats app allows users access to key economic indicators, census data and the Australian population clock from the convenience of their mobile device — much easier than downloading a spreadsheet from the ABS website. It has been updated to improve the interface, making it more intuitive and responsive. Data can be broken down by suburb and federal electorate.

More than 42,500 people have downloaded the app so far, its popularity helped by word of mouth. On July 28, 2013, it had the highest ever number of downloads (3674) on a single day due to a 13 second plug by Malcolm Farr during the closing of an episode of ABC Insiders.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ ABS Stats app.

According to Michelle Tseng, assistant director and team leader of the mobile and online apps team (pictured top), work on the app began shortly after the first iPhone was announced, though it took them several prototypes before it was officially released some five years later.

“For statistics geeks, anybody from the career politician to the dinner party know-it-all, or even settling those dinner party disagreements, the app gives invaluable access the latest statistics about Australia,” Tseng says.

But why stop at one version? The team has continued to iterate and improve the offering with new datasets, using GPS, and automated updates from ABS macrodata repositories, so the information like the Pop Clock can automagically update without ever having to lift another finger.

ABS’ design goal is lean and modern, based on user-centric development:

  • Using a user-centred design approach, they focused on the user and user experience elements to incite delight, such as information design, minimal aesthetics, clean layouts, intuitive gesture control and surfacing data upon opening the app.
  • It followed principles of Google’s ‘material design’, which blends classic design principles with innovation and technology, for the Android version and Apple’s iOS Human Interface Design guidelines for the iOS version.
  • The team approached the development using an agile and iterative process.

But is the work now done? The ABS is encouraging its users to take come up with even more innovative solutions, “unleashing the power of statistics for a better Australia.”

The app was built by mobile tech vendor Ansible. The ABS project team had little experience working with outside vendors previously, but say that regular communication and engagement with the company allowed for swift resolution of any issues that arose during the process.

The ABS Stats app has also been nominated for the best expanded service or application category in the gov design awards, with the winner to be announced shortly.

Solving problems for vulnerable members of the community

Fair Work Ombudsman’s Record My Hours app.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s Record My Hours app, which addresses the persistent problem of underpayment for young and migrant workers, took out a silver medal in the government category.

The FWO sees many examples of records that are missing information or even deliberately misleading. This creates difficulties in determining whether workers are being paid their correct entitlements. The Record My Hours app solves this problem by leveraging smartphone features like wifi and GPS tracking to make it easy for workers to automatically and accurately record their hours of work and pass-on information about their employment. It was also built by Ansible.

The Victorian Electoral Commission’s Voters Voice iPad app also received silver. It assists people who have complex communication difficulties, speak Auslan or have literacy issues to enrol and vote. Built by a company called Conduct, cost savings for the VEC are estimated at around $1 million.

The WA Department of Agriculture and Food’s soon-to-be-released Lambing Planner app was another silver. It replaces a hand-held, paper-based tool targeted at farmers. It allows users to change a lambing date or a joining date and see the impact on other key times in the reproductive year. It also features a short best-practice guide for lambing. It was created by Dapper Apps.

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