MediaMade possible by

Announcing the debut of ‘Business is Boring’ – our brand new weekly podcast

Announcing the debut of ‘Business is Boring’ a brand new weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound will speak with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and text.

On Facebook the other day I saw a post from a friend who is an artist complaining – albeit slightly facetiously – about the complexities of tax law, and wondering quite genuinely why they never got taught business at art school.

That’s a good question. In the eyes of the IRD an artist is a one-person business, and if an art school isn’t teaching business skills, why is that?

Maybe it’s seen as against the spirit of being an artist to know or care about stuff like tax and business. The word alone conjures up images of old bald white guys, in their suits and clubs and boardrooms. But that’s what business once was, not what it is now or will end up being. And besides – what’s so bad about knowing about business?

Business shouldn’t be boring. Businesses are full of stories, hard to start and harder to keep going. Business decisions are linked to everything going on in the world to the degree that my first editor used to tell me that you can read Friday’s front page in Monday’s Business section. If you’re reading it at all, that is.

And that’s pretty much the point of this podcast: business should be talked about and scrutinised, and not only by those involved in it. Which is a pretty tidy little segue to introduce the first person we’re talking to, Lillian Grace, founder and CEO of Figure.NZ, a company and website that makes New Zealand’s data accessible, relevant and interesting.

They recently released a new Business Figures feature on their website, Figure.NZ . It makes it easy for businesspeople to find out data that’s usable and useful for them about their industry, in their region. It’s a really cool interactive tool that’s part of a bigger project to draw information from places like Statistics NZ, from corporations, and from academic research, and make it searchable, readable, and consistent so people are able to draw out their own conclusions.

It’s wonderfully ambitious: at the base of it is a desire to give us a better understanding about our country and to give businesses the tools to make better decisions, which would make it a very valuable resource, and do a lot to get more people talking about things that matter.

Have a listen below, or download here on iTunes, or here on Stitcher:

Simon Pound: let’s talk about Figure.NZ and this mission you have to make data accessible to people, and while that may not sound like the most exciting thing, it really is. The information that’s on the site is so powerful and engaging and the site is beautiful and easy to use and presents it in such a cool way.

Lillian Grace: Thanks. It’s been really fascinating for me to realise that I spend all my time talking about and thinking about data which is definitely not something you think of as being the most compelling, interesting, engaging topic. But, like I said, it’s a way of telling stories so it’s a way for us to understand what’s come before. When you put it into simple, visual, compelling ways that people can actually engage with, it makes quite a bit of difference. Everyone can use numbers in their thinking. Whether it’s a seven year old saying “I got a new labrador on the weekend and there are 46 labradors in my town” or whether it’s a tow truck driver in Hawkes Bay saying “I wonder how many accidents are in my town by month in the last ten years”. Just using numbers as a way of understanding. So yeah it’s actually changing the whole way people think about data and putting it into more tangible language and presentation styles and things.

Let’s dig into exactly what the site’s doing. So with Figure.NZ, with those examples you were talking about there, how would a young person who’s just got a dog, or a tow truck driver, how would they access the information on your website? Where’s that information drawn from?

It’s quite a big world that we’re trying to make really simple for everyone to use. So you just literally go to our site, Figure.NZ, and it’s free for everyone to use. We’re working to create a data democracy and so making it accessible for everyone on the user side. And so you’d just type in the words you’re looking for, so you might type “dog” and “Hastings” and see what starts coming up. And of course that is going to be absolutely limited by what data we’ve managed to process so far and the search functioning that we’re continuing to improve over time. My team, we’re totally of the mindset of just kick things out the door as soon as we can and we’ll refine it over time. So it’s definitely not this perfect experience yet. Think about the early days of Wikipedia or Google search and things. We need to be learning and adding more content over time.

There’s still quite a lot on there now, isn’t there.

I know, it’s amazing actually.

What are the main places you’re drawing information from?

There’s a whole bunch of government agencies where we get data from and so we work to have them become our customers. So one of the ways that we operate is to be a publishing platform of choice for people with data. So even someone like the Treasury are one of our customers. They’ve paid us to take some data about the Budget and to make it standardised and consistent and then to publish it and make it actually usable. I think one of the reasons they would do that – cos we’re actually trying to create a model where people are moving from thinking that they should be commercialising all their data to actually convincing them to pay us to take it, which is a few steps down the track – and one of the reasons is, right now New Zealand’s data is essentially organised by source. By that I mean if you want to find any data about our country the first thing you have to know is who collected it. That means that if you don’t know that an organisation called NIWA exists, you can’t find information on New Zealand’s climate. If you don’t know that StatsNZ has something called the “Household Income Survey” you can never access that data. So one of the things that we’re doing is creating a place where you can start searching for data based on your own words and your own kind of experiences rather than having to first know who collected it. So whether it’s something like the Ministry of Social Development hand out benefits to certain people, they collect that information and say how many people are getting it, what regions they are, some attributes of them, that’s usually stored in like an Excel spreadsheet on their website. So we take that and we process that in the platform that we’ve built called Grace and we make that standard and consistent and we start pushing that through into really simple to use graphs, maps, and also to CSV tables and a public API. It’s currently broken while we rebuild the backend into something new and amazing. So, regardless of whether you are a real novice when it comes to using data or a real expert, we want to be able to deliver to all of those requirements.

imageedit_1239_5202166434

That’s part of it, isn’t it? That a lot of data might have been available but if it’s not standardised you maybe aren’t able to draw the right conclusions.

Yes. Going to where the idea came from, I used to work for an organisation called the New Zealand Institute and this was one of the key insights I had about the difference between available and accessibility. So when I started working there I hadn’t come from that kind of academic research background. I remember opening up the OECD database for the first time. Didn’t even know that the OECD was, I was like “what is this place?” There are hundreds of data sets that tell stories about our country just sitting there, and looking at StatsNZ and just realising oh my goodness the richness of the numbers and what they actually show is incredible. And I was thinking this is so fascinating because most of us don’t know that they even exist and we don’t know how to use it. And with the New Zealand Institute, we did work on social, economic, and environmental issues. We would say “what are the biggest issues facing New Zealand and what can we do to address those?” We would always start by using the metrics.

So for example, say we were looking at innovation in the economy or something, we would say “what are the metrics around this? What are the numbers? How does New Zealand perform now? How has that changed over time? How does it compare to other countries?” So literally looking at bar graphs saying “Where is New Zealand on this metric compared to other countries?” And then you’d say “right, so what countries used to perform poorly that now perform well?” Then we would go and start looking at the literature to see what have they done to change that, what policies have they made, what things have happened in the private sector, and is that something that could happen in New Zealand?

Data and numbers is never the only answer. You don’t look at a graph and it changes your life very often. But it’s a lens, a way to know what questions to start asking. To help kind of navigate all of the other stories. So it was through that process that I came to see the value of it and when we would go out and show people these simple bar charts, line charts, regardless of the topic and regardless of the community that we’re showing them to, people would understand them and they would be interested and curious. They would literally go “I had no idea.” So whether it was that New Zealand’s GDP per capita was declining compared to Australia’s, or , I remember showing a graph in Whangarei to a group of people that worked with youth  the graph that shows New Zealand has the highest rate of reported youth suicide out of all advanced economies. And they were just like “What?!” and I remember a woman saying “that graph is going to make me work harder at my job. I had no idea that that was a situation we were dealing with.”

From all these little things I started to piece together the world of “all this data is actually available and people care and they want to use it, it’s just that it’s too hard” and I realised that there’s a massive difference between available and accessible. Everyone can use numbers in their thinking, we need to make a world where it’s actually usable and to write a list of requirements that say “if you’re seven and you want to use numbers in your thinking, if you are a tow truck driver and you want to pull out your phone and understand something, what are your requirements for that?” And so that’s been what’s driven the way we present stuff on our site.

In a small country like New Zealand, data becomes even more difficult because we don’t have the huge scale where  there are lots of organisations who are presenting the data. Or maybe there’s not enough money in it for  people to be out there doing it on their own. So is this ability to give people really accurate data in a small market a help to  business?

It’s been really, really fascinating. Because you know how everyone’s talking about data and big data and open data and getting all excited about it. Especially businesses and large corporates are seeing it as a big trend they need to be jumping on top of. Because of what we’re doing with Figure.NZ and I’m also on the Data Futures Partnership working group that the Government set up last year, so through a variety of hats I see under the hoods of lots of organisations. What’s been really interesting is seeing that all of the organisations are trying to get in the front of the data curve kind of issue by establishing a little team of experts. Business insights teams or deep analytics teams that sit in the corner and are quite separate, often, from what everyone else is doing and everyone’s like “oh we need to collect all the data and get some understanding here.” Then when it’s like technically connected and some systems or dashboards or whatever have been built, and the people are trying to turn around to the rest of the organisations and say “right, we’re ready, what questions have you got? What insights can we get for you?” And everyone else kinda says “oh, we’re fine, we don’t even know what you’re talking about” because they haven’t been brought along the world of understanding the data.

And so that was really interesting to realise, for a start, is that regardless of where you are, even large corporations or large public sector agencies, nobody is actually where they assume everybody else is. Everyone is learning for the first time about how to actually use data in a really insightful way and not just like a shiny hand-waving kind of way. What questions do you ask if you want to use numbers in your thinking? When it comes to how businesses can use it, last year about 18 months ago we said “right, businesses are one of our target user groups.” We have schools, businesses, media as a user, and Māori. And with we thought let’s go and investigate and see how they’re using data and went round about 30 or 40 different, quite small, businesses and said to them “what data are you currently using? What do you want to use? Where do you get it from? How can we make it easier?” And all of them, pretty much, were just like “what are you talking about? We don’t use data. Nope, we’re fine.”

imageedit_1237_9042236052

We talk to people at barbecues, that’s how we decide things.

Yeah I was just like alright, well that’s good to know your starting position. But what was really, really powerful and fascinating was that through a 20 minute interview – and every single one, we were able to get people excited about the use of numbers and data in their thinking – but it came from first understanding their world and then being able to show them examples or to tell them examples. So the tow truck driver’s a real example and at the start the guy I was interviewing was like “I’m pretty sure I’m not one of your users, what are you talking about” and then as I sought to kind of understand his world, said “what if you could see how many accidents there were around you by month for the last ten years?” And he was like “what? Is that for real? Is that something we could actually do?” Yeah totally. I said to him “is there anything that you’ve learned in the last ten years of doing business that, if you had seen a graph in the first year, you wouldn’t have had to learn the hard way?” And he thought about that and said “actually, yes.” It took about 3 or 4 years to understand the real seasonal impacts on his business and if you imagine from someone’s perspective of setting up a business, in the first year your business starts doing well and you’re like awesome, start hiring people, then things start going down a little bit and you’re thinking heck, what am I doing wrong? You kind of ride that wave a few times before you realise every July this is going to happen.

The implications of that are that you may choose to hire a contractor rather than an employee at certain times of the year because you understand the trends behind that. So what we did after really understanding a) how far away people were from using data and b) how it could be useful to them, is we developed a new user experience that we actually just launched last week with our partnerships with ASB and Statistics NZ. It’s a user experience called Business Figures, and it’s a way of just literally saying what your business is and where you’re located and starting to have graphs and maps served up for you. The same with the rest of the site. It’s totally, literally, just out the door, there are things that are going to be improving and lots of things that need to be added over time. But that’s how we kinda see that, businesses can start using data and numbers as  no one has time to sit down and become an expert in how to do data analysis. So surfacing it in ways that people can actually grab and use, in a kind of Pinterest style, you can just save graphs and share them. So that’s our answer for how business can start doing that.

It’s a really cool experience. You jump on, you say “I’m in Auckland” and then you select from what kind of business you’re in. So I picked “Clothing retail” and then it showed up the demographics of the area. The number of women, the income in households, all of these factors that could be useful to know if you’re wanting to work out what your addressable market is and what your opportunities are.

Maybe it would be the kind of thing you should look at before you got into business.

We did have a giggle at the start actually, as we were setting out the purpose of creating Business Figures and one of the things we said was if fewer businesses were created because people knew not to make them, that’s actually success. Because if you’re able to see “oh there’s been five cafes on that corner that have always closed” or in this area or the population’s declining then that’s actually a good thing.

One of the really important things we’re doing with Business Figures is, well, traditionally when people think about data they want to use for their business, say you’re a florist in Nelson, a florist will be assigned to “flower retail” industry, and that’s how a lot of data is collected, in industry codes and things. What is actually relevant to someone like a florist is “what are the trends for funerals in my town?” because that is something that actually feeds into their market, but you don’t know to ask those questions and so we’re building connections between data and real world examples to flesh those out. It’s definitely early days, I can’t stress enough about how much we need to learn about what people want, but that’s the system and the model that we’ve been building.

It seems quite and interesting through line there, through the New Zealand Institute and Wiki New Zealand and now Figure.NZ. This idea of helping people make informed decisions and it being kind of non-political. Often data, when it does get to the public eye, especially around business data, it comes through the lens of a company trying to make money, trying to scare you about some factor generally, media whipping up fear and resentment, or a political operation doing something similar. But the New Zealand Institute and now Figure.NZ, it seems to me to be kind of more of a public good. Is this a good way to look at it?

Yeah it’s completely a public good. So our purpose is literally to empower New Zealand to be as awesome as we know it can be. When I first came up with the idea, the original name of it was Wiki New Zealand, and that was because I had thought what if there was a place that everybody could put all their graphs? And they could be shared and published so that there was no duplication and everyone could kind of be using it.

Since then, I realised that so few people use it that actually that model isn’t the right model. Then I also realised that there’s such an inconsistency and danger around the way data’s shown that we actually need to be doing those standards inhouse. So that’s the name change to reflect that actually the model is quite different.

When I first had the idea, I had come from the private sector. I spent six years helping to run Massive Software which was artificial intelligence-based, 3D animation software used in visual effects in movies. We won an Academy Award for the technology. I used to fly around especially to California to see our customers, like, it was a whole different world. Then to come and work at the New Zealand Institute and to be looking at all these different issues that affect our country and the decisions they made and the implications and how things differed by country. I was thinking heck, what on earth am I going to do next? Because I now care about everything. I love technology, I love software, I love business, I love making money, I love trying to solve social, economic, and  environmental issues, I like all of it.

So I literally, on the 24th of February 2012 at 1:57pm, lay on a picnic blanket under a tree in Hawkes Bay where I was down for the Rod Stewart concert and thought to myself “what is the most important thing I can do with my time” because that’s the most valuable thing I have. And really suddenly started to see this thread between all of those things, all of the issues and business and everything.

Actually, everything becomes easier when people can see clearly around the context that they’re operating in and we can solve issues when we have the data and the metrics. Right now, we can only do it in really thin slivers, when experts do it. Imagine if there was a way that we could just lift that level up, to almost like shake up, the numbers into a visual form so that everyone can start using them at any moment in time. You know, you can be sitting at a bar having a conversation saying how many possums are in the North Island compared to the South Island, whatever, just any part of life, have that whole investigation; time, effort, skill part that’s currently required just removed. Imagine if we could move our whole society and approach so instead of guessing and arguing about what the state might be in a lot of binary debates about if something’s this or that.

Imagine if we could move past that and we could see clearly and then start discussing what do we actually care about, where do we actually want to go, and argue over the ways to get there rather than the way things might be.

So it’s absolutely, fundamentally there for a public good and for our whole country. New Zealand’s an incredible country, right? And we’re so small and it’s so easy to kind of reach out and almost touch everyone and to actually do something that makes a massive difference. To you earlier point around being a small country and what that means for data collection and stuff. I believe there’s a reason that we’re the first globally to be doing this as I think it is in some ways easy in New Zealand because it’s easy to understand all the different players in the country; the people that have data, the people that want to use it, the experts, reach out to schools. It’s the connection between all the players.

I kind of shudder to say the “data eco-system” but I’ll just use that term anyway. All the people that in some way are involved in collecting or storing or using numbers in New Zealand, we can touch them. We know who they are and I think that that’s when the real value is going to be realised. When all of those connections are built. In the same way that with something like Wikipedia, in the first few years it would’ve been fascinating but it wouldn’t have been useful in that same way. Now you pretty always get an answer that you’re looking for. In a similar way, with early days in Figure.NZ, people seem to love it. They love using it. We don’t really get people going “that’s a rubbish idea, don’t want data.” So that’s amazing to see but we also know that we’re not as useful as we’ll be when all those connections are built.

Imagine when all the articles that are written in media throughout New Zealand tap into our API and use tags to bring up graphs and maps that are relevant and a journalist doesn’t have to be scared of using numbers because it’s on our shoulders, in terms of the quality. There’s a whole kind of world that we’re working to create. But most importantly we’re working to fit it into the world that exists, actually. Instead of being this tech product that we build over in a corner and polish it up and say everyone jump over here and start using this amazing thing we’ve made. Instead we’ve really sought to understand the world as it currently exists, so what’s the world that journalists currently face and what’s the world that businesses currently are in and how can we connect into those to best serve and enable rather than requiring everyone to make a big leap before they start using what we do.

Saving journos from going to a couple of statistics classes at university or something. How is it set up, I mean, it’s set up as a not-for-profit, isn’t it?

It is.

It seems to have the world-changing mission, the struggle, the difficulty, the great odds of a typical start-up but there isn’t an exit moment for you where you can start buying Teslas and helicoptering to Waiheke. So how do run this as a business because the calibre of the people that are involved in Figure.NZ is very high in a very competitive local tech scene and also the quality of production is very high. So I imagine that must be based off some kind of commercial model.

It is. In the very start and setting it up as a charity, the real reason for setting it up as a not-for-profit is because, and I’ll liken it to Wikipedia again. If you think of Wikipedia, it couldn’t be a government or a commercial entity. People wouldn’t trust it in the same way. It needs to be this independent platform that people both contributing stuff to it and taking stuff away trust the way that it’s treated. So that, at the heart of it, is why I set it up as a charity. What’s been really interesting is realising that there is no model yet in between being a charity and being a commercial entity and most people still see those as very differents of a continuum.

When I was looking at the value of what we’re doing – so we did a cross-benefit analysis last year on Figure.NZ and the net present value came out at about $735million based on the value that we can deliver to New Zealand in the next ten years. Really conservative inputs, you know, Mckinsey used studies where they said the value of open data per person per year is $600 and we used inputs of like $50. It’s just that we’re talking about a whole different scale than anybody’s talked about before.

So all of these kind of pieces that we’re able to go “what we’re doing is actually really valuable” and there must be lines of value, streams of value somewhere that we can be tapping into rather than running a traditional philanthropic model like some other organisations kind of have to. So we spent a lot of time understanding what currently existed and especially getting to know people like those with data and a realising they’re all sitting here trying to make their data a bit more accessible, they’re all trying to build their own thing, and even if they all succeed, even if every government agency or private sector company succeeds in building the most wonderful portal or dashboard or something with their data, you can still only use it if you know where to go. So realising actually there is a lot of commercial value for people with data to have somebody that will take that headache off them.

Our commercial model is to be the publishing platform of choice for people with data in New Zealand. And so yes, absolutely we’re not for profit, all our revenue goes into the team and 100% towards our effort and for New Zealand. But we can do it in a way that means that we’re not – I don’t want to lean on people’s good intentions about what we’re doing, I want to demonstrate that you can build a model that is commercial; you can pay people well, you can have a purpose driven organisation, and still hold your own.

It’s just with such delight that we have things proving this, like we’re a finalist in three categories at the Hi-Tech Awards this year including the start-up category. For me, the most delightful part of that is the fact that we are able to demonstrate that we can hold our own with having a really fundamental, different model below what we’re doing.

In terms of the team, jeepers, literally everyday I’m just “oh my goodness they’re amazing!” They are just extraordinary and people often say to me, like, how do you find people. They are at my door, they’re half in the door, they start by volunteering and as soon as I can I’m like “right I can afford to pay you now,” and bring them on. I try to pay them at market or higher than market rates because I just value them so, so highly. It’s really made me curious about why that has happened because a lot of them I didn’t know before starting this. My theory is that having the really clear purpose kind of sitting out there in the middle of the table for everyone to see, and having it even embedded in the structure of the entity so it can’t change. Everyone that comes, whether they spend a few hours helping us or years working on Figure.NZ, they know that their efforts will always have gone towards that purpose. It won’t suddenly change and be sold to someone or be taken to do something else. I do think that makes quite a bit of difference in terms of people’s motives to be involved. But I’m still kind of thinking about that, like, it’s quite extraordinary the people that circle and jump on, and just the calibre their skills as well as their passion is just amazing.

That’s one of the themes that you’ve had through business, isn’t it. Pulling together the facts, the data, but also the values. So if I look at the team and the mission, there seems to be a lot of integrity but also a lot of commitment to quality. If I look at the flippant remark at the start about the data being sexy, it is, it’s beautiful. The graphs are lovely, the quality of your logo mark is so strong.

Kris Sowersby did that, actually, rockstar font designer. Thanks Kris!

figure

Isn’t it cool that you would go to someone who has re-designed the Financial Times font to do that.

He actually offered to do it. He did it for us just for free. He contributed it to us which is amazing. But that’s the kind of thing that happens and it actually just makes me really emotional in like a really deep way, there are so many humans out there that are just so talented and really care about important stuff and care about doing good and helping. I think it’s bringing down the wall so they know how to help and can see where their value is going to go. It actually makes a difference.

To touch on that accessibility idea. You worked very hard to making data accessible to people like me that maybe do not have a deep understanding of statistics and CSVs, but you’re also making the site accessible along other factors, aren’t you?

Yeah absolutely. With the new look and feel that you see on Figure.NZ, our head of design, Nat Dudley, spent quite a few hours going through lots of different colour combinations to make sure that all our graphs and maps are colour accessible for people with different types of colour blindness. And things like that are so fundamentally important and it’s always easy to throw them out of the boat first when you’re coming into deadlines or you’re trying to get things out the door.

It was actually in a talk that Nat did last year that really impacted me. When she was describing how, especially when you’re building something like software, something that scales, if you get it wrong, even a little bit, if you are not including people at the very seed of what you’re building then that scales to hundreds, thousands, or millions of people and it immediately blocks off a whole lot of users. So for example, if we didn’t prioritise the way that we’re using colours for people with colour blindness and we were like “that will come in a few years” and we launched that then we’re immediately just saying “this whole portion of the population can’t use numbers in their thinking, we’re not serving them.” And it’s hard, definitely, it’s hard to prioritise when you’re running through the door with things but we really care about getting that stuff right, and we’re always happy to learn and to hear from others when they are things that we’re doing that aren’t making it accessible for them. It’s definitely going to be a long journey but just to your point about the quality of what we’re doing, it’s been really fascinating, actually.

We launched maps for the first time and they’re so fast and beautiful and they use all Kris Sowersby’s fonts as well. But what was really fascinating when we were having a conversation in the team about what the map functionality was going to be and what components we should be including, is because all of us personally love pushing the boundaries of technology and what can be done. We love big, interactive things and lots of things that move. But we had to keep bringing it back and going actually we’re here to make it accessible for everyone so we can’t be focused on pushing the boundaries at the moment. We can personally, in our personal lives, but we actually need to start with what’s the simplest thing that means everybody can get through the door.

Because I said for the tow truck driver in Hawkes Bay, the best map is if I print something out on a piece of A4 and hand it to him. So actually let’s start there and develop more functionality as we go but not assume that we need to jump straight there. So there’s a lot of healthy tension around “we really want to be pushing what we do and we’re capable of it” but sometimes we consciously rein that back so we don’t exclude a bunch of people.

screencapture-figure-nz-business-bnL913BEdBjqXWIh-0xmCUU0UNZrLyUi3-1462835970021

One last thing to touch on. You have those four constituencies that you guys really go after and one of those four were Māori business. That is really interesting because I have this feeling that Iwi, as one of the only groups who do choose to invest purely in New Zealand and build their communities, they’re becoming a stronger and stronger economic force in the country. What kind of measurements and what kind of business related things are you building in to focus on that Māori element?

It’s not just Māori business, it’s Māori in general. And it’s also not just data about Māori but how can we make data and the right user experience, or the best user experience, for Māori. We’re at the really early days of researching to understand that and just going out talking to people, really seeking to understand. But an example is often you see a lot of statistics broken down by ethnicity that are used to demonstrate or to show that Māori aren’t performing as well as in other areas and other ethnicities. And what I find really interesting about that is that’s not empowering at all and it’s not really the whole story because we choose what gets measured and we need to be really careful about what measures we’re choosing. \

One of the theories that we’re kind of testing with people is what if we built a user experience that just surfaced data about Māori that didn’t compare it to other ethnicities. So you could jump on and you could understand more about your community or your iwi or your hapū, or what data exists where you can dive in and understand the trends but you’re not smashed in the face with all these kind of negative connotations and comparisons and things. I don’t know if that’s gonna fly. So far people are responding well to that idea but we really care about getting it right and listening first so it’s really hard to say how that will end up manifesting.

With Figure.NZ, one last little run through. If I’m reading this and I’m a young person with a business idea or if I’m an any person with something they wanna test, how would they access your site and what kind of journeys could they go down?

Right now there’s two main journeys they could go down. You would just go to Figure.NZ and you would either just start searching through the main search bar et cetera. If you’re wanting to be a florist or you’re just wanting to understand different population trends or understand how many boats or something come into the Auckland wharves and things, then you could just start using your own words in that search bar.

But you could also then click through to Business Figures and have a more tailored user experience where you can, it just kind of prompts you with suggestions and people find it really fun to play with and just go “what if I do grow carrots in Oamaru, what’s the data around that?” Start by looking. What we find is when you’re looking at graphs and maps you tend to have more questions than answers. It opens up these pockets of thinking like “what does that mean?” and so there’s often your frustration of “I really wanna see that data now” which doesn’t always exist. But you can have a play, you can log in and save your content similar to a Pinterest board so you can start collating content that you care about. You can have that public or private and we will make so there are multiple boards you can have, which at the moment you can just have one.

You can also take those graphs, put them into Powerpoint presentations or share them with people. All our stuff is under Creative Commons and you just have to adhere to the licensing of the data providers, which is usually Creative Commons 3.0,which is what we really encourage. Almost everything on our site you can use however you like. All the metadata and stuff is below the content and it’s been interesting, actually, realising that most people just really undervalue metadata. It’s the stuff that explains how the numbers were collected and all the caveats and definitions. Most people look at a graph and they assume it’s black and white and that it’s right or wrong, or whatever. It’s so important to understand that there were humans making decisions about how it was collected, who were asked the questions, what the questions were. And so really understanding the metadata below is just so critical to really understanding what the numbers mean.

Just one point on why I often use the word “numbers” or “figures” instead of “data”. Even using the word “data”, most people think actually that data is what you buy to top up your mobile phone with because that is what data is advertised to the mainstream in our country. And that is data. So even saying “everyone should go use data about their business”, most people don’t even understand what that means. So we’re talking about numbers that can be used for human decision-making. Almost just like clues that we’ve decided to collect so that we can recreate what’s happened in the past in a way of understanding not just how we’ve performed financially and kind of looking in the rearview mirror with that, but also understanding the context that we’re operating in so we can then be making better decisions going forward.

That’s fantastic. Thank you very much. It’s very exciting to see the site. I get the feeling from it that I kinda did from iPhone 1, where you see that there’s all these cool things where the linkages are still growing. You know that’s there’s lots of very committed and caring, smart people working to make it better all the time. It’s a cool site, well done.

Thank you, you’re very welcome. Enjoy.

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism. Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories. Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.