Proven tips to make the best performance dashboards

Although good data is the heart of a performance dashboard, agencies should not underestimate the importance of good design, according to a new report. 

They have many choices. For example, the design could be a map, like on Recovery.gov, or a series of colorful dials, such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s dashboard.

But agencies should avoid creating a dashboard that looks like grids of numbers or other approaches that appear to the eye to be masses of text and data without any visual appeal, according to a report on best practices for federal performance dashboards from the IBM Center for the Business of Government.


Related story:

In defense of IT dashboards


Dashboard design is important and federal agencies should share best practices on their successful designs, recommended Sukumar Ganapati, author of the report and associate professor at Florida International University.

“Although design may be idiosyncratic and vary based on technical capacity within the organization, a set of best practices or standards would enhance design quality,” Ganapati wrote in the report.

Ganapati gave kudos to the patent office’s Data Visualization Center dashboard, which he calls “visually rich,” but he was less complimentary of the Food and Drug Administration’s TRACK dashboards, which he describes as “essentially tables.”

The author suggested that federal authorities create a website with standardized guidelines for dashboard best practices, along with focus groups to further hone the guidelines and gauge usability of the dashboards.

The report also recommends that federal agencies adopt standard data schemas, such as Extensible Business Reporting Language, and maintain high data quality. Without high-quality data, performance measures on the dashboards are compromised and credibility of the dashboard could be damaged, the author wrote.

Standard data definitions and training of key agency personnel are also needed to maintain high-quality data.

Agencies also need to be strategic in their development and use of dashboards, aligning their performance measures to organizational goals and considering who is in their audience, the report said.

“Dashboards are only tools to visualize performance data,” Ganapati wrote. “Their effectiveness depends on how organizations use them to enhance internal performance and external accountability and transpar­ency. Organizations should be cognizant of both the strengths and weaknesses of dashboards.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Wed, Oct 12, 2011

Dashboards are all the rage, the fancier the better,and IT companies love them all the way to the bank. Dashboards may be useful, but they have many pitfalls and hidden costs. The data streams needed to support dashboards are more often than not expected to appear at no cost other than the cost of putting the dashboard in place. The personnel needed to validate the quality of that data are almost never included in the cost of the system. And the effectiveness of having a good or bad dashboard in almost never evaluated.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group