Year note: 2021

Things I probably hadn’t expected at the start of 2021: having a minor hit with a sea shanty about the National Data Strategy. (Screenshot from
  • Openness, in many of its forms. In having honest conversations and managing expectations, in talking to and listening to your staff, in sharing with and listening to an external audience (and being open about your own limitations). It can take a lot of hard work to do properly, but it’s invariably worth it.
  • Treating your staff as your greatest asset. Listening to them (see above). Looking after them. Helping get the best out of them. Thinking about how to do all that. I’m lucky that I work with organisations that really care about this — I was really made to feel part of a team, very quickly (though obviously not too much a part of a team for IR35 purposes). That was especially true of my first big piece of work with the Ada Lovelace Institute, which helped ease the transition to freelancing no end. (On a related note: such organisations think very carefully about ways of working, which helped mitigate the fact that ‘freelancer’ is not a user journey many of the big platforms seem to have considered…)
  • Focusing on what you’re trying to achieve and prioritising and pivoting accordingly (#impact). I experienced different ways of doing this — discussions during a project, pulling things back to the organisation’s overall aims, etc — all of which were productive. I think the most important thing was honestly discussing the trade-offs that might be involved (if we’re doing a, we can’t do b) and making them.
Me, to any company developing work collaboration or communication software. (Meme of Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, ‘Won’t somebody think of the freelancers’)

Vaccine passports

Data: a new direction

Mapping the data landscape

Data Bites

‘There are eight bits in a byte, hence eight minutes in a Data Bite…’ (Countdown timer from the IfG Data Bites event series)

What’s a pirate’s favourite epidemiological concept?

Other work



My article in Public Digital’s Signals. (Picture of ‘The numbers game: Communicating data in the age of Covid-19’)
  • 42 editions of my weekly data/dataviz newsletter, Warning: Graphic Content (subscribe here, Twitter here). There were definitely times when it felt more like a chore than a charm, churning out links rather than having space to reflect on the big stories of the week. (Not helped by occasional frustrations with Mailchimp, and perennial ones with Tumblr.) One of the things about freelancing is you think about your time differently, and often in monetary terms — the newsletter takes a while to compile and I’m making nothing (or at least, very little) directly from it. In 2022, I need to explore sponsorship — or stopping.
  • Related: this list of other newsletters (etc) about data (etc), which people have found helpful.
  • A guide for Smart Thinking on how to do data visualisation. I’m grateful to Smart Thinking for the opportunity to think about and distil some of the lessons I learned at the IfG — and was delighted it was their most-read piece of the year.
  • Blogposts on ministerial meetings, after I obtained the publication guidance via a freedom of information request, and on WhatsApp in government, a bit of a ramble on *why* it’s different to other forms of communication and what that means.
  • An article for Public Digital’s latest Signals collection, on ‘The numbers game: communicating data in the age of Covid-19’. My piece will be available online soon, or order a copy of the whole thing here.

The year ahead




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Gavin Freeguard

Gavin Freeguard

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