Data Visualization Toolkit: Dashboards Data Considerations

Dashboard icon

A dashboard is useful for displaying timely information on key variables that can be seen on one page or screen. A dashboard connects the viewer to the information, and when that information changes so does the dashboard; this time delay can be seconds, every quarter, or yearly, but you shouldn’t have to create a new dashboard when you need updated information. Dashboards can include information on one child, one school/program, an entire system, or a combination, and they are useful for measuring progress.

Dashboards Data Considerations

The table below applies the foregoing design principles as questions to consider in relation to the data you wish to display and the messages you want to convey. Download the Data Considerations Worksheet to help you think through each consideration.

Design principle and questions Examples Tips

1. What is the purpose of the dashboard?
What is the added value of the dashboard?

  • Progress on achieving child/student/family outcomes and other child/student/family measures
  • Progress on implementation of State Systemic Improvement Plan activities (SSIP) activities
  • Annual evaluation of SSIP implementation
  • In defining the purpose of the dashboard, make sure its value to the intended audience is clearly articulated. This will help define the audience, scope, and data points to be used.
  • The purpose should determine the dashboard’s core or theme. Try answering the question that is defined by the purpose, such as, “Is progress on proximal measures (progress checks) at an appropriate pace to meet the targets?”
  • Keep the dashboard’s purpose as specific as possible. If needed, design multiple dashboards, starting from one with general information and proceeding to other dashboards with more specific purposes and more detailed information.

2. Who is the audience of the dashboard?

What are the needs of the audience?

  • Special education director
  • Part C coordinator
  • SSIP coordinator
  • SSIP internal stakeholders
  • SSIP external stakeholders
  • All SSIP stakeholders
  • Staff implementing SSIP activities
  • School district administrators
  • School district staff
  • Local providers
  • Teachers
  • Children/students and their families
  • The more audiences involved, the more generic the dashboard may need to be. The purpose of the dashboard may need to be revised according to the intended audience’s needs.

3. What is the scope of the dashboard?

What is the main story the dashboard will tell?

  • Display information about the entire program
  • Display information about a specific component of the program
  • Display statewide, regional/district, local, child-level data
  • The more specific the dashboard, the more frequently you may need to update the information displayed.
  • The degree of specificity will depend on the purpose and audience of the dashboard.
  • If the dashboard is of broad scope, make sure to display only the information and data that helps the audience understand the theme, according to the identified purpose.

4. What data will be inlcuded?

What data will help this dashboard tell its story?

  • If the dashboard will measure progress toward a goal, consider proximal (short-term) and distal measures (long-term outcomes).
  • If the dashboard will measure progress on SSIP implementation, consider displaying key summaries of data collected from implementation fidelity rubrics or evaluation results.
  • Keep child or student growth in mind when selecting the data for the dashboard.
  • Combine qualitative and quantitative data in the dashboard, as appropriate.
  • The data should relate to the theme or core of the dashboard as defined by its purpose.
  • The data should correspond to audience needs or how the audience is expected to use the dashboard.
  • Make sure stakeholders recognize what the metric means, what the data are measuring.
  • Avoid data not directly associated with the dashboard’s intended purpose.
  • Organize the data into logical groups on the dashboard (e.g., student data in one place, operational and instructional data in another).
  • If showing progress (or lack of progress), make sure data reflect multiple time periods(monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc.).
  • Make sure the appropriate context is provided if the dashboard will stand-alone.

5. What type of dashboard should be designed?

How often do the data need to be updated?

  • If the dashboard will display annual progress updates, a real-time data dashboard is not needed.
  • If the dashboard will display data that needs frequent updates, consider a real-time data dashboard.
  • Consider online data dashboards if data updates will be frequent.
  • Consider your system’s capacity to draft and generate dashboards. Do not consider real-time data online dashboards if you do not have the capacitor resources to develop and maintain them.

6. What will be the dashboard architecture?

Does the dashboard display highlight the main story?

  • Use the charts, gauges, maps, tables, and text recommended for each type of data as discussed on other parts of this toolkit.
  • If you may have several data points displayed on one page or screen, make sure the final result is not distracting from the main theme or purpose of the dashboard.