Look here for tips on dashboards that simply do their job, says Stephen Black

It seems everyone in the NHS wants a management dashboard. Sadly, most of the dashboards we see are dysfunctional in one of two ways: in one, traffic lights turning from green to red spur managers to act on short term noise not long term problems; in another, managers’ attention is distracted away from what is important by irrelevant (but good looking) visual adornments. Such dashboards don’t communicate clearly the information relevant to making decisions.

Much has been written about dashboards, but little of practical value

Stephen Few shows why eye-candy is often the enemy of clear communication. He outlines how the principles that matter are about providing the manager with the relevant information without distractions; the right comparisons in a format that makes comparing easy; the right context so that noise can be distinguished from trends.

Many of the most effective techniques are based on the observation that the human eye-brain system is very good at recognising certain types of patterns and if the information is presented in ways that exploit those patterns it will be understood quickly and interpreted correctly.

Much has been written about dashboards, but little of practical value. Few’s books are the ones to read if you really want to improve your ability to communicate the meaning of your data. If you are a manager I suggest buying your analysts this book for Christmas (and adding Few’s other books: Information Dashboard Design and Show Me the Numbers). It might make your life a lot easier.

Stephen Black is a principle consultant in the decision sciences practice at PA Consulting.

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