How to use Figure.NZ and engage our services.
Everything on Tohu is free to use under CC-BY license
All of the data on figure.nz is free for you to use, but you do need to adhere to the license terms of the original data provider. You can find these terms below each chart and table we publish, in addition to our own reasonable terms and conditions.
Use our data
We process data from many disparate formats and turn it into standardised machine-readable form. We publish all data in multiple formats, so you can use what works best for you.
If something doesn’t make sense please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can make it clearer or fix any mistakes 😱.
Types of content
We have tens of thousands of charts for you to use. We create as many as we can from each dataset because most people find them easier to use than raw data. All our charts are presented in a consistent form and adhere to our standards, including all relevant metadata.
You can take copies of charts to use in your own work, group them together in a board, or share them with others directly using the tools built in to our web site.
We have published hundreds of beautiful interactive maps on a range of population, social and economic themes. Here is an example of the population growth rate in the Timaru District, New Zealand . Find maps by searching for a topic on our web site and then selecting the Maps tab at the top of the search results.
All of the data we process and standardise is available in downloadable CSV tables. All metadata is published with the tables. Here is a table of New Zealand’s estimated resident population 1996-2013. Because there are so many, our web site doesn’t display tables by default, but you can see them by searching for a topic and then selecting the Tables tab at the top of the search results.
It is important for us to make all data we have processed available through a public API. In fact, this is so important, we’re redesigning our API to make it more useful to others. If you are a potential user of our API, please let us know so we can include your needs in our thinking.
If API doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone! The nutshell version is it stands for Application Programming Interface. An interface is where things meet. Beaches are an interface between land and sea; APIs are interfaces between different pieces of software. For a longer description you’re probably best to check out what Wikipedia says.
Metadata is information that describes things about the data. This can include definitions of words, limitations on the data, why the data was collected, who collected it, and how to locate the original files. Metadata is attached to every element of every piece of data we publish, down to the individual cell in every table. We publish a summary of the metadata we have on every chart, map and table page on our site.
About our data
The data we have is:
- public and aggregate. To protect individual privacy, we do not publish any personal or unit record data.
- relevant for New Zealand. The majority of our data is about New Zealand, but we do publish some public international data so we can compare New Zealand with other countries.
- collected by others. We don’t do any primary data collection. We rely on the good work of lots of providers.
- of varying quality. Hundreds of organisations in New Zealand collect data that is relevant for us to use. Some of these organisations have robust and official statistical methods (like our friends at Statistics New Zealand), and others are simply collecting data from their customers, or as a by-product of the service they provide. All of our content is clearly labelled with the name of the provider, where the data came from, and the metadata included in it.
- on lots of topics. We care about all topics relevant for New Zealand. What we have is limited to what we’ve had the resources to publish so far, but we add more every day. You can see what kind of data we have by looking at the categories and patron topic areas it covers, or the different providers we get our data from.
As at 30 November 2016, we’ve published 30,748 charts, 686 maps, and 1,358 tables. We’re calculating how much data we have as a proportion of what we want to have. We think we have about 10% of New Zealand’s public, aggregated data so far. We aim to get to 80% by 2022.
All data we publish is checked separately by two independent members of our data team, and we maintain a complete audit trail down to the individual cell in everything we publish. We’ll be sharing more about our process soon. We’re still only human 🤔, so if you spot anything we should check, please send us an email at email@example.com.
Our process is designed to preserve all the metadata it can, both to enable future calculations based on the data and also because it’s difficult to know in advance which metadata will be significant to our users.
All of our data publishing is supported by the software we’ve designed and built for this purpose. If you’re interested in what happens behind the scenes, you can read about our technology stack.
We’re continuously working to make it easier for you to find the content you need 🕵🏾.
Getting good search results from large volumes of quite similar data is still a hard problem, and we’re still working on that. If you’re struggling to find something, we’d like to know. If we don’t have it yet, we can probably tell you where to find it, or it could be that our search is letting you down. Either way, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter or Facebook and we’ll do our best to help.
University student: Tim Leyland
Massey University student Tim Leyland says Figure.NZ is a go-to resource when it comes to doing assignments, as well as simply browsing for information. “It’s got a really inviting design and the charts and maps are well labelled, so it’s easy for people who might be a bit shy of data to understand and use.”
The Nelson resident describes the website as a great reference tool and often visits when he has a specific enquiry in mind. “I had a number of assignments where I needed to provide historical context on how things had changed, what the trends looked like, or what the geographic distribution might look like. Figure.NZ was one of my go-to sites,” he says.
Tim, who is studying data analytics, is particularly keen on the quality of Figure.NZ’s metadata (data that gives information about other data), specifically, how it helps him easily make citations in assignments. “The sources are well referenced, and it’s easy to trace back and make sure you’re looking at the right data, and check how current the information is.”
Just browsing thanks
As well as using the site for assignments, Tim also likes to follow his nose and dive with nothing but curiosity into the 40,000 charts, maps and tables that make up the website.
“There’s so much information, and it’s fun to just poke around. Sometimes, later, when a question does come up in conversation I’ll remember seeing something relevant on Figure.NZ…People sometimes get stuck in a rut of asking Google for everything they need to know, and if they don’t find the answer on the first few hits they give up. But there is a lot of information that it only takes a little more enquiry to find, and Figure.NZ is a great example to show people.”
Data for all
Tim has a philosophical view on the power of numbers to inform decisions, and is 100% on board with Figure.NZ’s mission to help New Zealanders see clearly through the use of numbers.
“I absolutely agree with the vision of putting data and information into the hands of everyone,” he says. “Just about every decision and choice we make in life has to be made with less than perfect information. If we’re lucky, we have our own experience and knowledge to draw on, and maybe the advice of people we trust, but that’s not always going to be sufficient in every case. If we don’t want to always just guess our way through life, then we need good data to help us make good choices.”
Image courtesy of Alyson Baker. All rights reserved.
English teacher: Anna Dowling
Working at Victoria University of Wellington’s English Language Institute, Anna Dowling teaches English as a second language to students from all over the world. Much of her work involves helping students improve their language skills before they go on to undergraduate or postgraduate study.
As part of their coursework, students write essays describing and interpreting charts. Anna explains: “For this we like to use recent, authentic charts, often about New Zealand – which is what Figure.NZ specialises in.”With such a wide range of data (nearly 40,000 charts), there’s something for everyone on Figure.NZ – as Anna says, “it’s possible to find a chart on almost any topic”.
She uses these charts in class, showing them to her students to spark discussion about what they show, and why the data might have changed over time. “Figure.NZ has been really useful because there are so many topics, and a lot of charts showing data from recent years, or comparing recent years to mid-20th century, for example.” Anna likes being able to explore the site through simple searches from the home page. She usually starts by searching for topics that might suit – for example, “children” or “tourists”. Once she’s seen the range of data available, she narrows down further by topic or time period.
Anna also makes use of Figure.NZ’s free saved list feature to keep track of the charts she’s interested in.
“Creating an account was so quick and simple! It was also really easy to go back to the charts I’d saved, to remove them from my saved list if I didn’t want them after all, and to download them either as images or as data (.csv files). I’ve now got around 40 charts saved, on all sorts of topics, including electricity generation, and children who eat breakfast every day.”
The metadata (data that gives information about other data) that accompanies every chart has also come in handy, showing Anna background information and other links to follow if she wants to learn more.
Anna recommends Figure.NZ for anyone who’s interested in learning more about New Zealand, saying: “The website is easy to navigate and use, and the charts are well-presented.”
Image courtesy of Colin McDiarmid, Victoria University of Wellington
Publish your data
We have developed the software, processes and team required to take data in different formats and turn it into standardised machine-readable form, before publishing it publicly in a variety of consistent formats that make it easy for everyone to use.
We provide commercial data publishing services to those that want to make their data public and easy to use. All of the data we process is free for everyone to use and take from figure.nz. Being a charity is critical to what we’re doing, because it means we don’t have competing priorities. We are here to advance New Zealand and have a very clear mission to do that.
Here’s what our system looks like:
Services we provide
You can engage us to:
- Publish specific datasets: These can be your own, or others’ if we’re allowed to use them. You can use us as your external-facing channel for getting your data open and getting it used. Examples of those using us this way include the NZ Treasury, Department of Internal Affairs, and the NZ Defence Force.
- Publish data on a topic: Want to see a range of data on a specific topic published? We can look at public domestic and international providers to publish data for you. Examples of those using us this way include Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development Agency, and InternetNZ.
- Create charts and maps: if you want particular charts and maps that aren’t already on figure.nz we can make these for you. This may be for a report, blog, online stories, presentations or pitches, especially when you need the added benefit of having our trusted and neutral third party branding. We will do our best to make what’s useful for you, but we won’t compromise our standards.
Why use our services
Organisations engage us instead of publishing their own data because:
- We make it easy to find. If people can’t find your data, they can’t use it.
- We make it easy to understand. Data that’s presented in lots of different styles is too hard for people to use. We put the data you care about into a consistent and usable format.
- We support your data. Our social media engagement and promotional campaigns are fully backed by an expert team who can answer questions about your data and how to use it.
- You can benefit from our work to promote data use throughout New Zealand: Our media relationships, our private-sector partnerships, our public promotional work, and our own front-end tools.
- No security risk. We work only from the data you provide to us, so your internal systems are never exposed. This also removes the cost and complexity of another large IT project, and our auditing process catches any remaining errors.
- We make it fast, cheap and great. Most organisations aren’t experts at making data usable, because they’re focused on delivering their core products and services, not data science.
Best of all, you don’t need to change anything internally to use Figure.NZ’s services. We don’t need access to your internal systems—simply give us a copy of the data, even if it’s in Excel spreadsheets, and we’ll handle the rest.
You’ll not only have your data published, it’ll also be standardised with metadata, compliant with NZ’s national standards, and easier for your team to use internally. Our expert data officers can also give you feedback on anything that might help you to improve your data practices.
Fast, cheap and great
Publishing your data is important, but it’s likely your team have other priorities. We know most organisations with data are data providers by accident—collecting data as a by-product of other services, and are unlikely to have in-house data publishing skills. We make it easy and safe for you to publish your data.
All you need to do is give us your data as-is—it can be in Excel spreadsheets, or CSVs, or even a PDF report. We’ll take care of the rest. Sometimes it’s easiest for organisations to start with data that’s already technically public but is hard to find and use, so there are fewer hurdles to making it open and it’s easier to get comfortable with how we work.
We’ve created a custom software platform, Grace, which is designed to efficiently and accurately take your data from its current formats and turn it into beautiful machine-readable tables. This saves you hours of processing time.
Charts and maps can be easily updated when new data is released. They don’t need to be recreated—we simply add the new data and all the published data updates automatically.
Even better, the processed data can be reused anywhere. You can take the charts and maps made and share them internally to help your team see patterns and gain insights from the data and make better policy decisions. You can save time when you receive OIA requests—simply link the requester to the freely available data you’ve already published on Figure.NZ. You can even proactively promote your available data to stop the requests coming in the door.
It sounds like there should be a catch. We know when you’re asked to choose from fast, cheap, and good, you can usually only pick two, but we’re a unicorn 🦄. As a charity, we can offer you excellent value, excellent quality and world-leading technical services.
Our approach works
Data published on Figure.NZ is usable and gets used. As part of our data processing we create tables, charts and maps that are specially designed to be both user-friendly and accessible to all New Zealanders. Our data officers can create hundreds of charts in a single day. As part of this process, we create plain-language definitions for the terms your organisation uses, enabling every-day New Zealanders to really understand the data you collect.
Your content is published to our web site and can be shared via social media and with other content partners like The Spinoff and Business NZ. We’re constantly exploring new ways to get New Zealanders engaged in data, from quizzes to billboards, to reports, to mainstream media like the New Zealand Herald.
Some examples of the data we’ve published being used:
- The Spinoff Weekly Quiz
- Digital Nation Report
- Te Punaha Matatini innovation blog series
- ASB infographics
- Internet NZ’s State of the Internet
Publishing your data has benefits for the people in your organisation as well as the public.
We know that teams who seek to understand the problems they are trying to solve through data make better decisions, but it’s hard to do that when you can’t find or understand your own data.
Publishing your data with Figure.NZ centralises the data scattered throughout your organisation, making it much easier for your teams to find. The data is also published in easy-to-understand forms like charts and maps making it more user-friendly for your less confident data users, encouraging them to incorporate numbers into their thinking. It’s also published in machine-readable, downloadable CSVs so your more advanced users can quickly dig into it to do deeper analysis without needed to spend time cleaning it up.
Figure.NZ also makes it easier to understand the information. We publish metadata explaining providers and jargon right alongside every map and chart we show, and we’re developing data literacy material designed to help build confidence and competence in data use.
As your teams find charts, maps, and tables to help them build a narrative for the policy or report they are shaping, they can save these to a board to share with colleagues, or even members of the public.
We live in a very unpredictable world and it is extremely important information doesn’t get locked into a single system. We can help you future-proof your data, taking it from random bespoke formats and turning it into something that’s easily portable and reusable. Everything we process is transformed into machine-readable form, and is competely available for you to easily take, use, feed back into internal systems, and archive at any time.
What our services cost
We’ve done data publishing projects from $1k to $100k. Cost is driven by how long it takes our team to process your data. This is driven by the state of your datasets more than the size—large datasets that are already in a simple CSV file are often faster than small ad-hoc spreadsheets (but we can process all types). As a very rough indication, a $1k project produced about 40 charts, and a $100k project produced about 6,000 charts.
Updating datasets when new data is released is faster and cheaper than the initial processing. Our sophisticated internal tools keep track of the changes, and if your data format hasn’t changed since the previous version, a full update will only cost about 15% of the initial processing cost.
It’s hard to predict the price without first spending time looking through a dataset to see what form it takes. Often customers will engage us by setting a maximum project fee and then trust us to process as much as we can, giving regular updates so they feel comfortable. Working this way allows us to publish the most data for the least money, serving both your publishing goals and our charitable mission.
How to engage us
We understand that making the decision to publish your data is often best done with others involved, and we’re happy to come and talk with your team about what we can do.