Dashboards for innovation evaluation

A dashboard system is a way of tracking project activities across a range of different lines of inquiry. This is of particular benefit to those interested in developmental evaluation. Developmental evaluation (DE) is an approach to evaluating programs with an innovation focus and can be used as a means of generating data to support strategy development and deployment. That’s how we use DE.

Developmental evaluations often have multiple components to them that include a variety of methods, data sources, tasks and duties, and sensemaking requirements. All of this information can make a DE difficult for the client to gain a sense of what is happening and even confuse the evaluator at the same time. One way to manage this is to create something we refer to as a dashboard system.

Dashboards: Making strategy and evaluations visible

A dashboard is a means of showcasing multiple information streams in a simple, accessible manner that is easily understood. It might include notes from a meeting, data collection summaries, schedules of activities, and reflective notes. It is not a wholesale repository of all data, rather a higher-level summary that includes enough detail to get a sense of what activities are happening, when, and to what degree.

Among our favourite tools is Trello. Trello is organized into a series of ‘boards’ that allow you to organize content based on a topic or theme and create a simultaneous ‘stream’ of content within each board.

For example, a developmental evaluation might involve something like the following boards:

  1. Interviews with key stakeholder groups
  2. Observations
  3. Document reviews
  4. Sensemaking and strategy notes and outcomes
  5. Meeting minutes
  6. Survey or other data collection results
  7. Reflective notes
  8. Data collection plan

These boards would include any project component that has a distinct, coherent set of activities associated with it. It could include methods, data components, meetings and activities, populations or key document groups.

Tools for thinking and seeing

Trello is just a tool. What we’ve illustrated above could be done as channels within Slack or even as a series of sections within an MS Word or Google Doc. Even an Excel spreadsheet can work. Anything that allows someone to visually track details about discrete areas within a larger project.

(Although tools like MS Word or Excel will work, they are less than ideal as they require strict version controls to articulate changes and this can be difficult to manage, particularly if there are multiple contributors to the document on a regular basis. The reason one might choose MS Word or Excel is less about its functionality and more because it is what people are used to.)

What makes a DE a challenge is that there is a lot of data being generated from many different sources within a complex context. This makes the management of information a challenge and that poses problems for the task of generating helpful insights from the data generated. It also makes it problematic for identifying emergent patterns.

By making data visible, a dashboard allows multiple eyes and multiple perspectives to ‘see’ the data and thus, expands the possibilities associated with seeing possibilities and emergent conditions. The dashboard also increases accountability for all parties. For clients, a dashboard allows them insight into what the evaluator has access to on a regular basis and avoids any surprises. For evaluators, it ensures that clients have the means to engage in the process and don’t sit back waiting for insights to be ‘served up’ to them. DE is best done when it is a collaboration between the client and the evaluator and a dashboard can help this.

Lastly, a dashboard system provides a means of organizing content and keeping track of what is collected, identifying what is needed, and providing a quick-look means to explore what is known and unknown in a project.

Cense employs the dashboard approach on its projects whenever possible. If this approach is of interest to your organization and you want a means of developing strategy and evaluations in a more engaging, transparent manner connect with us and we can show you how this works in practice.


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