3 key points for building your own dashboard

April 15, 2020 Paul Voegtle

Government and businesses continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Our communities are turning to technology to help shape their communications. 

I’m part of the team at Esri Canada that assembled the COVID-19 Resource Hub: a collection of data, maps and applications to assist in monitoring, preparing and responding to the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation. Many have leveraged these resources to create their own COVID-19 sites for their organization’s needs. 

A key component of the Hub is the dashboard. Why create a dashboard, you might ask? I find it to be an effective tool to explain a situation as it relates to your organization, and to communicate important details with your stakeholders. Dashboards are widely accessible and allow end-users to consume important details more easily.

When working on Esri Canada’s COVID-19 dashboards, I took the following areas into consideration to tell a compelling, effective story:

Define your objective

I first started with clearly defining the purpose of the dashboard. When I began work on the Health project I wanted to dive deeper than just looking at the number of COVID-19 cases. There was a lot of discussion on the potential impact to vulnerable populations and I wanted to understand the factors that would put those individuals at risk. When developing your own dashboard, ask deeper questions to help define your objective in producing it. 

Source accurate data

The next area I focused on was the data and accessing it from authoritative sources. My first question was, what types of data are available and will inform those reading the dashboard? Esri Canada partnered with Environics Analytics to secure community health data at a very granular level. For our purposes, it was critical to access accurate data from credible sources. We’ve all heard the saying “good data in leads to good data out”, and that was certainly true when building the health dashboard. Once we had the data, a lot of effort went into properly preparing the data sets. The focus on the data piece was imperative to the dashboard’s success – there’s nothing worse than the data not looking right on a live dashboard; this would just diminish the credibility of your site.

Make it simple for the viewer

The final aspect to consider is simplicity of use for the end-user. I think we all have made the mistake of over complicating our dashboards at times. You don’t have to jam everything into a single dashboard.  In some cases, it may be more effective to build multiple dashboards to tell different stories. While working on the COVID-19 health analysis, the findings on mental health and impacts were so significant we decided to build a separate mental health dashboard.

Also consider how to make it easier for the viewer to comprehend your information. People tend to look left to right, up and down. What is the first thing you want the user to look at? And then the next thing, and so on. As a best practice, try to keep the number of widgets used to no more than five. If you can get away with three – even better!

Here are a few of authoritative dashboards Esri Canada has developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Conditions Dashboard

Mental Health Dashboard

Global Cases / John Hopkins University Dashboard

Creating dashboards can help tell your organization’s story and communicate important information to end-users. If you’re interested in creating a dashboard or a similar COVID-19 site for your organization, please get in touch with us.

About the Author

Paul Voegtle

Paul Voegtle is the Product Specialist for Location Analytics at Esri Canada. He helps clients understand the value of their data by applying location analytics using GIS. He helps them visualize data and conduct in-depth analyses through maps to uncover patterns and trends that make their data more meaningful. Paul has more than 15 years’ experience in the location analytics industry, working with customers in banking, insurance, retail, government, real estate and utilities.

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