ABS embraces mobility with apps, responsive Web design

The statistics organisation's mobility strategy to engage the community in using data has made it a finalist for the 2013 Excellence in eGovernment Awards

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is jumping on board with mobility, with plans to roll out another app this year in addition to its existing ABS Stats iOS offering. The organisation also plans to employ responsive design principles to make its website more mobile-friendly.

The Run This Town app for iOS, to be released around June this year, will target school children and encourages them to interact with census data through playing a numbers game with a fictional town.

“You need to start at that level to get Australians use to using statistics and data at school age,” Merry Branson, ABS head of customer services branch, said.

“We know that the younger generation, in particular, embrace the iPhone and the apps more and that was definitely a target audience for us so we wanted to engage them.”

This comes off the back of the ABS Stats app for iOS which was released in January this year. The app has made the ABS a finalist in the 2013 Excellence in eGovernment Awards.

“To be able to get information to people where they are and when they need it is really important; it’s important to develop apps and these sorts of things,” Branson said.

“It fits with our mission of getting the information out there and used in the community. It’s us just trying to get citizens to engage with data and have a bit of fun with it.”

The app displays the ABS’ key economic indicators, census data, population clock, and links seamlessly with the organisation’s official website and social media channels.

Having reached more than 10,000 downloads, Branson said the organisation is working on upgrading the app to allow people to access census data based on electoral boundaries.

“At the moment you can see the census data based on post code. But you’ll also be able to choose the option of picking an electoral area and having a look at the census information based on those areas,” she said.

After releasing the app in the ABS’ BetaWorks website for the public to provide their feedback, Branson said some tweaks were made to allow users to be more selective when using the key indicators to view the data that’s most important to them.

One challenge for the app's design was dealing with the limited screen size of mobile devices. Branson said some types of content, such as statistical tables, do not translate well on mobile devices.

As a result, the government agency is implementing responsive Web design for its website, allowing the site to display differently on devices with different form factors.

“Thinking about future proofing what we are doing, we think we are probably not going to be able to cover everything – there’s going to be more and more devices and more and more demand – so I think we have to have a more generalised approach [to mobility], which is this responsive design.”

Branson said she is not seeing as big a demand for apps on other mobile platforms, such as Android and Windows Phone, compared to iOS.

“We’re probably not going to go Android," Branson said.

“We’ve sort of got the lion’s share of the market covered… We going to focus more on the responsive design for the website and really doing much better with preparing content and different versions of content that you can render on different sized devices.”

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Tags mobile applicationsABSresponsive web designAustralian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)Run This TownABS Stats

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