How Visual Data Can Improve Performance Management in Government

By Christine Carmichael August 26, 2015

Visual analytics is transforming the way government leaders make critical decisions, meet their mission goals, and interact with the public. New trends in measuring performance management promise opportunity for growth, sustainability, and efficiency.

Here are four ways in which government agencies use visual analytics to improve performance management.

1. Empower Workers with Self-Service Visual Analytics

It’s no secret that the government is slow. Empowering public employees with self-service analytics can help speed things up.

Visual and intuitive dashboards accelerate speed to insight. Dashboard users can find answers 10 to 100 times faster than with the old scorecard methods. Users at any level within an agency can ask what-if questions instead of having to wait for a report that may take days, weeks, and sometimes even months to reach them.

Self-service becomes imperative in time-sensitive situations like disaster response. In such cases, decision makers can set priorities and allocate resources based on the latest data—both during the disaster and in its aftermath. In this dashboard from the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, users can see exactly where dollars are being spent, what types of projects are being prioritized, and where funding comes from.

2. Choose Scorecard Metrics that Matter

Above all, the metrics for a performance dashboard should be closely tied to the goals at hand. A team should be highly selective in determining which metrics earn a spot on the scorecard dashboard. Consider the following when choosing metrics:

• What are your organization’s core objectives?

• How do your programs directly contribute to those objectives, and what values do you measure them in?

• Are you utilizing the right data, either internal or external, that can shed light on these objectives, or simply data that’s easiest to get?

• Can you design a meaningful metric that measures those contributions?

• Is this metric truly necessary to explain the program’s contribution to the objectives?

• Can you build a systematic and ongoing means of measurement?

• What do citizens and constituents want to know most?

• What do citizens and constituents need to know in order to actively participate?

The City of Houston uses a dashboard to track council members’ project funding allocation. Users can filter by district, funding source, and project status to see where money is going in real-time. Users can also see exactly where money is being spent on a map, and also track the number of projects in play against their execution costs.

3. Utilize Right-Time Data

Responding to fire drills is a fact of life for government agencies, and that’s when data matters most. Whether the data is from this year, this week, or even just a few minutes ago, there’s no doubt reliable and timely data will elevate operational efficiency.

In order to keep decisions on pace with the speed of business, data needs to be current, or, at the very least, within an appropriate timeline to answer relevant questions. Proactive organizations are turning to right-time data feeds to track costs and outcomes as they go.

The definition of right-time data can vary. If a city is making decisions about where to dispatch police cars, police need data that is extremely current. Budget decisions for the city, on the other hand, can usually be made with data that is updated weekly.

This dashboard is the Virginia Department of Transportation’s so-called crash book. It operates with a highly-detailed filter page on the main tab, and allows users to drill down to the most current collision data that matters most to them.

4. Create a Collaborative Culture

Governments can’t operate in a bubble. In order to maximize mission outcomes, governments must work collaboratively with the public, the private sector, academia, and nonprofit organizations. Interactive, sharable data visualizations help teams share insights collectively uncover actionable insights.

The Leicestershire County Council in the United Kingdom tried this method when engaging with the public on budget priorities. The council asked citizens where they should spend its money, then visualized the 7,000 responses alongside additional data like library usage and child services needs.

“It’s just amazing how you just show a couple of visualizations and then the room starts talking about what they’ve seen,” says Robert Radburn, the council’s research and insight team leader. “They just care about that they can see this data, and it’s the data that affects them everyday.”

For a more in-depth look at how government agencies are using visual analytics to improve performance management, check out our whitepaper.

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