Yes, I said it.
Forget your dashboard.
Your dashboard isn’t the most important thing.
“BUT WAIT!”, you may be saying to yourself or your loved ones, “don’t you sell dashboards?!?!”
And the answer to that is, yes I do. I also make them with the mySidewalk team. I love them. We put a lot of time and effort into making sure that our clients have the perfect data stories to make lasting change in their communities. I obsess over your hex codes. I stay up all night crafting the perfect power statement and wondering whether stacked bar charts should even be a thing. Sometimes I dream in dashboards.
When I was a professor back in the day, I used to warn my students before I returned their marked-up policy memos or essays. I would say: “your writing does not define your character. Your product is not your heart.” The same goes for data dashboards. You may have the flashiest, most complicated, data-laden dashboard in the world and still not have a cohesive vision for your organization. Or, you might have a simple and effective dashboard with no frills that clearly shows everyone what you care about and how you plan to succeed. It’s easy to fake an innovative spirit with a dashboard, but it’s not a testament to who you are.
In many communities across the country, the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) functions (or, rather, should function) as the heart of decision-making. I work with cities and counties all over the US, and in some of these places, the CHIP truly is a statement of principles and values. The CHIP is a roadmap to a better future and — in the best cases — a public commitment to accountability. A CHIP is like an awesome performance management plan where the end game is the most important KPI of all time — healthy residents living longer lives.
But a truly community-owned CHIP is still a rarity. It’s an exception, not the rule. I was recently in a room full of amazing Community Health Workers (CHW’s) in California’s Antelope Valley. They were asked “how many of you were engaged when the health department was doing a community health plan?”. Not one hand went up. These were the beacons of the community! These were the men and women on the front lines of chronic disease prevention, social needs, and mental health triage. These were the family, friends and neighbors of the region’s most vulnerable folks and they had never been asked to contribute to a community health plan.
There are not enough underlines, italics or bolds in the world to underscore how ridiculous that is.
So if we aren’t actually asking people their opinions on health in the community, why on earth would anyone expect the community to engage with the CHIP when it’s done?
I see a lot of dashboards every day, and I see a lot of CHIP’s. Some of our dashboards get thousands of eyes on them a year while some get the dashboard-equivalent of crickets and tumbleweeds. Which brings me to my main point:
If you think you have a dashboard problem because nobody looks at it, you’re probably wrong. You have a CHIP problem. In other words, it’s not a technology problem. It’s a people problem.
Now, this isn’t to say that accessibility isn’t important. I believe in dashboard equity. I believe in investments in ADA accessibility, attention to good data viz principles, sans serif fonts. I detest red/yellow/green tachometers (blasphemy, I know). But even the best designed dashboards (and I know, because we made them) can fail when nobody cares.
If you want people to engage with your CHIP when it’s done, engage them when it’s beginning.
There are some health folks out there doing this right. In fact, we are throwing a webinar for Lawrence-Douglas County Health in Kansas because they are doing it SO right that they’ve smashed dashboard records all over the place. This is the beautiful thing about a CHIP — if you’ve done it meaningfully and sustainably, people will flock to your data story not because they are a sucker for a good map but because they believe in you.
-Dr. Sarah Martin, Director of Health Solutions
In my next article I’ll be laying out 7 CHIP Tips and counting down my favorite 7 types of actual chips. In the meantime, do these things:
Think about your past or upcoming CHIP or CHA/CHNA processes and find something you’re super proud of and something you wish you would have done better. Tweet your answers at me @SarahKCMO