Dashboards and Transparency in Justice

The IBM Center for Business in Government has issued a report on report on Dashboards in government:

In its summary:

One approach the Obama administration has latched onto to make sense out of the deluge of data is the use of on-line “dashboards” of performance data that track the key performance metrics of various federal agencies and programs.  The administration has touted the benefits of dashboards as a way of organizing and filtering performance data so it makes sense to decision makers so they can understand and act on it.

One example has been the Federal Information Technology Dashboard, showing the status of dozens of technology investments across the federal government. The Obama administration claims that the dashboard, along with regular review meetings using the dashboard data, has led to decisions saving $3 billion in technology spending and cutting in half the delivery time of technology projects.

Agencies across government are now exploring how they can develop dashboards for their operations, as well.  Agencies profiled in this report include the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Four important lessons, according to the site:

  • Data quality is key to the credibility of dashboard performance measures.  Quality is being built into data, Ganapati says, by using “standardized data definitions and training of key agency personnel.”  He says adopting a standard schema such as the Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) for financial dashboards “would enhance data quality and reporting efficiency.”
  • Resources for best practices are necessary in the design and use of dashboards.  A website, such as usability.gov, for standardizing dashboards or being a repository for best practices would be a useful resource for agencies.
  • Performance measures should reflect organization goals.  Measures should be aligned with agency goals and evolve “in response to different audience needs.”
  • Dashboards are only tools: effectiveness depends on their use.  Dashboards can be highly effective in helping agency leaders visualize and interpret performance data from multiple sources, but there has to be a clear effort to ensure they are used by internal decision makers.  When used for external accountability purposes, such as recovery.gov, “both the dashboard performance measures and the underlying data need to be publicly accessible” to ensure organizational credibility.

David Udell, at the National Center for Access to Justice, is heading in the same direction with his Justice Index.

By setting benchmarks, identifying best practices, and publishing policies and data, the Justice Index can help to empower judges, court administrators, other government officials, journalists, academics and activists in their respective efforts to improve our justice system. Of course the Justice Index is only part of the solution and cannot guarantee results in and of itself. But, by making clear the hidden functions of our justice system, the Justice Index is a reform project that will make a difference.

It has great potential for transparency and innovation.

Moreover, the changes in LSC data collection could help lay the groundwork for such transparency and reporting.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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2 Responses to Dashboards and Transparency in Justice

  1. Kate Bladow says:

    Several years ago NTEN had a great blog post on organizational dashboards and how they use their dashboard. They also made their dashboard available as an example. From my perspective, it’s a nice example of a simple to update dashboard that a nonprofit is using regularly. – K

  2. Claudia Johnson says:

    Hi Richard,
    Thanks for these posts. I think that the legal services community should take a look at the annual reports that are prepared on the Medicare system, as a model of a) what descriptive statistic is needed to ascertain the status of access to justice in general and across federal regions, and b) understand the changes in trends in the different aspects of legal services. Having worked at the predecesor (ProPAC) of MedPAC in the early 90s, I know that this requires a steady stream and stable of resources, highly trained analysts to do, and independence to write objective reports. In addition, before setting any standards, benchmarks, or identifying best practices, we need to know the current status of what is happening on average and then how things differ in rural areas vs. urban areas, including staffing patterns of cases, use of technology, length of practice in legal aid, private resources raised (all the factors that are necesssiry to provide quality legal services). I am excited to see some movement on a justice index. Here is the link to MedPAC for those grappling with these issues. The March and June reports to congress are great examples of what we could do in legal aid if we are serious. http://www.medpac.gov/documents.cfm. The issue driven reports are great examples of what happens when a trend is identified, then how the issue is analyzed in depth to allow for cogent allocation of resources from a policy point of view.

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