Veronica Olazabal (Rockefeller Foundation) and Linda Raftree (Kurante) here on considerations for data dashboards. Linda recently organized a Tech Salon on this at The Rockefeller Foundation. A session around dashboards had to include Stephanie Evergreen. We also wanted to hear from others, so we included Shawna Hoffman (MasterCard Foundation) and John DeRiggi (DAI).
Dashboards might seem simple. The private sector has it down – surely it’s not hard for nonprofits to follow suit. Surprisingly, our social sector tech/data savvy colleagues all shared similar challenges! Out of the session emerged 13 tips below are 5.
# 1: Ask whether you really need a dashboard or if one is even possible
It’s critical to have data dashboard discussions across the organization to understand real needs and expectations. People often say they need a dashboard because they want to make better decisions – but what kind of decisions? What information is needed to make them? Where will information come from? Who will get it?
#2: Define the audience and type of dashboard
A dashboard cannot fulfill everyone’s needs. Most organizations will need several for different levels of decision-making. It’s important to know who will own it, use it, maintain it, and collect the data. Will it be internally or externally facing? Discussing all of this early is a key part of the process.
#3: Work with users to develop your dashboard
Start by clearly identifying the audience and asking what they need. Don’t assume you know — however, don’t assume that they know either! Have a conversation where their and your expertise comes together. Perhaps take the ‘data’ out of the conversation altogether. Ask decision-makers what questions they are trying to answer, what problems they are trying to solve, and go from there.
#4: Don’t underestimate the time and resources a functional dashboard requires
You can’t make a dashboard without data to support it. Nor can you create and launch a dashboard and move it to autopilot. The dashboard will need constant change and iteration, and there will be ongoing work to maintain it. The questions being asked may change over time, and the dashboard may need to constantly adjust. You’ll need time to get buy-in for using dashboards.
#5: A dashboard shouldn’t be the only basis for decision.
Like a car dashboard – data dashboards signal that something is changing but you still need to look under the hood to see what’s going on. A dashboard should trigger questions and be a launch pad for discussion.
- Tech-enabled M&E post from 2014 M&E Tech Conferences
- TechChange on-line courses on Data Visualization
- Juice’s “Guide to Designing Dashboards People Love to Use”
- Additional resources are available – please add yours!
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