~ 6 MIN READ
The Power of a Public-Facing City/County Dashboard
Local Government examples and key takeaways from City Managers, Finance teams, Strategic Planners, Analysts and more on how community dashboards have not only been efficiently launched and maintained, but also how they have been used in storybook fashion to guide constituents of all kinds through potentially complex data in clear and digestible segments.
Cities and counties today are looking for ways to improve transparency, and a public-facing dashboard is a tangible and effective way to convey your information and demonstrate your commitment to transparency and progress towards goals.
To start, let’s clarify what a good Local Government dashboard is and what it isn’t. A citizen-facing, local government dashboard is a way to showcase performance and tell a story about your data, but we do not believe it should be a "data dump" of every possible metric and measurement. Dashboards should summarize the most important measures and goals for your organization and provide context and analysis, without overwhelming residents with volumes of raw data.
Also, for cities/counties with a variety of different measures and initiatives, the dashboard is not typically a single "cockpit-style" screen filled with charts. As shown in the examples of local government dashboards provided in this article, many cities and counties use dashboards more like a storybook, offering relevant information in clear and digestible segments.
This leads us to the first key component of telling your organization’s story—a solid introduction.
Introduce residents to your city/county dashboard.
When residents visit your dashboard page or site, it’s important to start with a bit of context. Think of it as a welcome message—you’re setting the stage for what residents will be seeing, helping them better understand priorities, measurements, and the overall commitment to transparency.
The City of Sugar Land, Texas, uses a straightforward tagline on its dashboard homepage: “Accountability. Transparency. Citizen-Focused.” As you can see here on their About Page, they begin with an explanation of the dashboard’s purpose, background, and priorities, as well as descriptions of their green/amber/red/blue status indicators and definitions of their fiscal year and quarters.
Keep information straightforward and accessible.
Always keep your audience in mind. Your citizens don’t need the same level of detail as your internal stakeholders, and they’re likely unfamiliar with the various performance areas highlighted on your dashboard. Simplify the data and spell out information to help community members understand what they’re looking at, regardless of their familiarity with strategic planning.
For example, explain:
- Your status indicators
- When your fiscal years take place
- When data will become available (if it’s currently missing)
- Technical terms (avoid jargon and acronyms!)
Again, the City of Sugar Land offers a good example. From the Responsible City Government page, it’s stated in plain language that you can click on each measure for more information. After a click, viewers are led to a detail page that explains the timeframe (quarters of the fiscal year), analysis, definitions, significance, and data source.
The City of West Palm Beach launched a Community Dashboard in 2018 as part of a transparency initiative titled "West Palm Beach Working". The Dashboard is the visible centerpiece, providing up-to-date key City performance measures pulling in data seamlessly from ClearPoint. The data serves as a snapshot for the public to view how the City is measuring up against the seven categories of their strategic plan. Residents can see a description of each measure, an explanation of its performance, charts, and the measure’s overall status.
As seen in the dashboard image below, the City of Forth Worth illustrates how you can concisely explain why some measures don’t have targets. When you hover over the "No Target" information icon in the legend, a pop-up appears: “...they are only monitored for change…”
Showcase key measures and projects.
Notice we said “key”! Don’t weigh down your dashboards with too many data points—we recommend focusing on what’s important. Your goal is to highlight priority areas and explain how the data you’re tracking and the key projects you’re pursuing in those areas help your city perform better.
Your community needs an easy way to review your performance, rather than having to sift through pages and pages of reports. Creation (or improvement) of a Dashboard is an opportunity to determine what information is most important to display about each measure and project. It’s often helpful to:
- Add charts. They are a great visual aid, especially when supported by qualitative analysis. Bar, pie, dot—you have lots of options to help you explain your measures in a succinct, visual way.
- Identify how your targets were determined.
- Describe how and why you track particular data and provide an analysis of current numbers.
If you’re concerned about not showcasing all your data in its entirety, you can always provide links to your full reports, open data platforms, or other comprehensive sources.
As part of their "Germantown 2030" strategic plan initiative, the City of Germantown heavily involved residents and as a result, felt it was particularly important to provide a Dashboard of key indicators to keep the public well-informed. As stated by Adrienne Royals, the senior analyst for the city of Germantown, "Germantown’s city administrator wanted the public to be able to see the strategic plan—particularly since they’d been so involved and given so much feedback. The goal is to continue improving our transparency with citizens so they could see the progression toward their goals for the City."
The City of Durham didn’t have a strategic plan for many years. Once the economy took a hit, they knew implementing a strategy would be a good idea. Using performance management software, Durham city officials were able to create and publish their dashboard and display their strategic performance measures for citizens in an easily digestible format. This helped foster a better sense of local government transparency:
“Since implementing the strategic plan, there’s been more of a collaborative effort. We’ve seen better communication between departments, a stronger partnership with the county, and more opportunities to engage with our residents.” - Jay Reinstein, former Strategic Plan Project Manager (Durham, North Carolina)
The City of Fort Worth uses clear language and bar charts to explain its performance on measures. Below the charts are definitions, analysis, and associated links for further context:
Make the dashboard easy to navigate.
If you’ve put the work into building and publishing your government dashboard but traffic and page views are low, your site could be hard to navigate. Do you need a redesign?
Using aids like top navigation menus, breadcrumbs, and other visible links helps citizens move through the dashboard—digging deeper when they want—to find the information they’re seeking. Easy navigation also gives an overarching picture of your priorities and how all the measures tie together.
Another reason your dashboard site might have low traffic is that it’s “invisible.” Just because you collected and published this data doesn’t mean citizens know it exists (or where to look for it). Advertise your dashboard and the major updates you make to it on your city’s website, social media channels, etc. Make sure your community knows how to find it!
Create an introductory video.
Don’t shy away from the idea of creating a video—it’s not as difficult as you’d think and adds a personal touch to a government dashboard. When citizens can see and hear city leadership speaking about priorities and performance, it creates a connection and demonstrates your commitment to transparency.
The City of Sugar Land’s city manager appears in this video explaining the priorities, how the measures were created, and how to access the dashboard. As he says in the video, “it’s all about accountability.”
The launch of the City of Olathe’s dashboard was picked up by a local news channel as an easier way to look into the city’s safety data, including crime rates, and explains that the priorities were chosen by the city council.
The article stresses the Olathe dashboard’s ease of use, saying, “The new interactive dashboard basically puts city information on a handy, clickable website for instant information, replacing the often arduous task of sifting through dozens of pages of annual reports.”
Creating (or improving) a Local Government dashboard can be a high-profile deliverable - something useful and tangible that residents can see and appreciate. Even with so much impact, the creation and maintenance of a dashboard doesn't have to require an army of staff or a great deal of effort overall. Technology can help - there are software options specifically designed to make it easy to bring local government data together and display it in a custom dashboard format on an ongoing basis. For example, if you’re already tracking your strategic plan performance using ClearPoint software, you can update your dashboards with just a few clicks - it takes less than a minute to keep citizens in the know and provide accountability to your community. To learn more about ClearPoint and/or to discuss additional examples of local government dashboards, let us know when you'd like to have a conversation (and ask about our Dashboard Gallery).