Thursday, March 15, 2007


Last November, in a post called "The Limitations of Dashboards" I wrote about my disappointment with the promise of electronic "dashboards".

But when I was about to waive the white flag, I found him. Who? The Dashboard Spy, that's who. And who is this spy guy? Nobody knows, and nobody has to really care either (see spy bio at the end of this article if you really want the scoop). The point is, he introduced me to some very inspiring applications of what a dashboard can do for a nonprofit (or the community in general).

Let's get down to specifics. Whatcom County's Community Dashboard uses red-yellow-green gauges as indicators of everything from Annual voter turnout, to Suicide Rates. They have gauges for women owned firms, violent crime, domestic violence incidence rate, rental affordability, releases of carcinogens into the air. And more! A girl who loves data might find her match here.

The site does offer the raw data, and drills down to great explanatory commentary. It also offers the following advice:

Caution: (These) gauges merely compare Whatcom County to other places. An arrow pointing to the green only means that we are doing better on a particular issue than other communities, it does NOT necessarily mean that we should be comfortable with how we are doing.

Still, I suddenly see (to mix my metaphors) what a power tool a dashboard can be. These icons convey information in an easy to understand context. Who is really going to study the raw data? Me? Yes. The general public? not so much. These gauges will give you a sense of community "at a glance"! And you don't have to be a statistics major to get it.

The only point of this article is that I have to pull the dashboard notion out of the trash bin and re-examine its application (and implications) for the nonprofit sector.

There is an air of mystery about "Dash". This is probably due to the fact that some early executive dashboard screenshots were “borrowed” for display on this site. Before this resource became popular and dashboard project members started to freely contribute samples of their dashboard work, some sneaking around was required to grab the screenshots. In fact, in a few enterprise dashboard samples, you’ll find names censored and logos removed.

Who is The Dashboard Spy? We can't tell you who he is, but we'll tell you a little about him. The editor of this site is an industry insider who has seen many IT projects and worked with many analysts, designers, programmers and business users on dashboard projects. He leads an Interactive Services department and has lots of ideas and opinions on User Experience-related matters.

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