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Dashboard: Communicating complex data clearly

By and 04/03/2021

A dashboard is an information management tool that tracks, visualises, and demonstrates metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPI). It can be customised for and shared with a specific audience to provide an overview of an activity/project.

A dashboard is usually a graphic that typically provides a snapshot in time of an activity or project.


A well-designed dashboard graphic can help to ensure quick understanding, a quick response, and quick action by providing:

  • tailor-made information to suit the audience. It can present details for different levels and sections of the project, and can allow the audience to see the project’s goals clearly;
  • overview information in one location and, where appropriate, hotlinks to further detailed information;
  • easy navigation around complex information using good design; and
  • Important information that is accessible to anyone online.

Case study: Public Affairs Index (2020) Dashboard

Public Affairs Index (PAI) 2020 is a flagship project from the Public Affairs Centre that ranks Indian states and Union Territories based on a composite index that measure the quality of governance using three broad pillars of Growth, Equity, and Sustainability.

It includes data for 3 pillars, 5 themes, 13 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and a total of 50 indicators. The PAI-2020 Dashboard developed using Tableau software aims to give a quick overarching view of the index, with the following features:

  • Data regarding indicators, sub-indicators, and rankings visually represented on one platform
  • Easy access through filters and hotlinks, giving an interactive, user-friendly experience
  • Use of Tableau software enables dashboard visualisation on different devices

The dashboard covers information that could be beneficial to different stakeholders such as policymakers, government officials, think-tanks, academic institutions, and individual researchers. With data available for multiple indicators and sub-indicators, a dashboard provides an easy-to-understand view of the data, making it a preferred choice.

What does a dashboard do?

A dashboard can be an important decision-making tool by providing quick insights, analyses, and action points, which can streamline workflows.

For example, with COVID-19 vaccine rollouts fast approaching in India, it is important to understand the intersection between the three tiers of the government. The involvement of central, state, and local government bodies in different stages of the rollout necessitates co-ordinated and efficient action-plan formulation for a smooth rollout.

How does a dashboard work as a communication tool?

Like any other communication tool, the dashboard helps to engage effectively with an audience or different stakeholder. For example, a think tank or organisation might create a simple and well-designed dashboard to understand and capture aspects of staff workflow to enable better planning and deployment. A simple timesheet that includes staff names, designation, assignments, and attendance and non-attendance dates will help different teams to plan.



  • Boosts visibility: Helps an organisation to know and understand what is working and what is not working. For example, during a campaign a dashboard will show how many people received an email/poster/information.
  • Saves time: Provides information on time spent overall and individually, creating a reference to help make better decisions.
  • Manage inventories: Helps to measure activities or boost an activity, and historic data helps to arrest challenges and plan accordingly.
  • Help in predictions: The insights provided help to predict and plan activities, manage audiences, and help to make engagement effective in future.
  • Provide real time information: In today’s environment, a sound analysis of activities helps to make decisions. Tracing the needs of an audience becomes easier with real time data.
  • Help in decision making: Quick turnover has become the norm. Especially where people are working remotely, providing key information to take quick decisions can also help reduce stress and increase productivity.


  • A badly designed graphic will tend to confuse rather than help the user.
  • An appropriate and common technology needs to be used, that everyone involved is trained to use properly. If not, information may not be presented accurately.
  • It’s important to date any graphic to ensure the information is used accurately. Ideally the graphic needs to be updated and refreshed with more up to date information where possible.
  • There are no universal rules about how data is presented, and users may end up using the data in different manner than intended. It is up to those creating the graphic to ensure that the parameters and any limitations to the data are clear.

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