~ 5 MIN READ
The Basics Of A Good Local Government Dashboard (With Examples)
Learn important best practices for citizen-facing, government dashboards, with real-world examples.
To start, let’s clarify what a dashboard is, and what it isn’t. A citizen-facing, government dashboard is a way to showcase performance and tell a story about your data, but is not a data dump. Dashboards should summarize the most important measures and goals for your organization, providing context and analysis, without overwhelming the reader with information.
Also, for municipalities with several different measures and initiatives, the dashboard is not usually the stereotypical one-pager filled with charts. You’ll notice that the government dashboard examples in this article are often dedicated websites showcasing relevant information. Again, it’s not a data dump, but more like a storybook.
And this leads us to the first key component of telling your organization’s story—a solid introduction.
Introduce citizens to your government dashboard.
When citizens land on your dashboard page or site, it’s important to introduce them to the information you’re presenting and provide some background details. Think of it as a welcome message—you’re setting the stage for what citizens will be navigating through and also demonstrating (if not clearly stating) your commitment to transparency.
Front and center on the Olathe, Kansas, dashboard is a statement that encapsulates the purpose of the site: “A community dashboard that measures progress toward achieving excellence in efficiency and service delivery to provide citizens of Olathe with the most value for every tax dollar.” Paired with the text is a pie chart showing the high-level status of priority measures, giving citizens a quick snapshot of overall performance.
The City of Sugar Land, Texas, uses a straightforward tagline on its dashboard homepage: “Accountability. Transparency. Citizen-Focused.” Navigate to the About page and you’ll find a thorough explanation of the government dashboard’s purpose, background, and priorities.
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. The About page provides in-depth descriptions of status indicators, fiscal year, and quarters. 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 Fort Worth illustrates how you can concisely explain why some measures don’t have targets. When you hover over the No Target 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—show citizens only what’s important. Your goal is to highlight priority areas and explain how the data you’re tracking and 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. So, you’ll also 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.
The City of Sugar Land links to the prior year’s complete quarterly report from the dashboard homepage, just below the tagline.
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 a video on the Goal Measures page 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 accompanying the video 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.”
Government dashboards are important, useful tools, but that doesn’t mean you have to assign an army to publish and maintain them. There are providers out there that make it easy to automatically update your dashboards to reflect the latest status, progress, and performance. For example, if you’re already tracking performance data in ClearPoint, you can update your dashboards with a couple clicks (seriously). It takes less than a minute to keep citizens in the know and provide accountability to your community.