Reporting visitor data: are dashboards (one) answer?

IMA dashboard

The classic IMA dashboard

Doing some research at the moment on better ways to gather and report on audience data. One area I’m looking at are dashboards – how useful are they? Who’s doing good things with dashboards? Are they the (one?) answer for busy and overstretched staff that don’t have the time (or the inclination) to trawl through large reports?

Kati Price (V&A) and Chris Unitt (One Further) gave a presentation about dashboards at MuseumNext 2014, with the following useful set of tips (with my commentary):

  1. First ask – do you really need a dashboard? (and maybe before that ask “What data do we need to be collecting?”)
  2. “Pragmatism beats idealism” – you could waste huge amounts of time developing a tool that may be unusable, just do something and see how it goes
  3. “Narrative is the spoonful of sugar” – informed, short commentary of key points will ensure the report is read
  4. “The first bite is with the eye” – visual representations win out every time
  5. “Behaviour beats demographics” – not sure I totally agree, demogs have many uses
  6. “Context is key” – say no more
  7. “Strategy for some, tactics for others” – reminder that the same data may be used in different ways by different people with different needs
  8. “Dashboards can’t do everything” – an important reminder that there (probably) isn’t a one size fits all solution (go to point 1!)
  9. The dashboard made a difference at the V&A in several ways – two that stood out for me were “happy trustee” and “More conversations about this”

Following from this, in The laws of shitty dashboards blogpost, Paul Cothenet notes:

I don’t have the data to prove it, but I bet a lot of shitty dashboard started with the sentence “we need to add a dashboard”. They are built without the users in mind because the product team has a bunch of numbers that they think could be useful. Or because the exec team somehow thinks “we need a dashboard”.

I’m keen to hear your dashboard story – feel free to add in comments or tweet me @lyndakelly61.

Have gathered a set of resources to share (below) and will keep adding as I find out more.

Museum dashboards

Non-profits and dashboards:


dilbert dashboards

What’s a data blogpost without Dilbert?!


9 thoughts on “Reporting visitor data: are dashboards (one) answer?

  1. Chris Unitt says:

    “Behaviour beats demographics” is one of those slides that needs some context alongside it. I totally agree there’s value in demographics. In that project we were looking at website analytics, where reliable demographics are hard to come by. It’s the same with the psychographic segmentation models that some use – very hard to apply to a dataset of mostly unknown people. We had some fun inferring characteristics by the behaviour and attributes in Google Analytics though.

  2. lyndakelly61 says:

    Thanks for your response Chris. I figured needed more context here – the other points I could figure out.
    Understand behaviour is critical online and demogs hard to come by. Behaviour in physical site is also crucial (and often overlooked as it’s not usually a happy story…).
    Thanks for that original post also – really useful for my research.

    • Chris Unitt says:

      You’re welcome. And I’d be happy to chat about this more if that’d be useful. A fair bit has changed since that V&A project and that talk – we definitely wouldn’t have gone about it the same way if we were doing it again. For one, there are a few more easily accessible (ie cheap/free) tools for pulling together disparate data sources. A bit of creativity can create some good things.

      • lyndakelly61 says:

        Thanks again Chris – if you are able to point me to better tools that would be very helpful.

  3. lyndalllinaker says:

    It’s so simple and an interesting idea but it still requires staff to drive it. Maybe that’s why one author recommends it for cashed up museums rather than museums on a tight budget or short on staff. I think the best dashboard I’ve seen was Walker Art Center with a magazine dashboard for the cross promotion of other museums and interesting information on all aspects of art.

    • lyndakelly61 says:

      Thanks Lyndall. I think there must be a tool out there that could be accessed by institutions regardless of size. I’m wondering if the excuse is “it’s too hard, too expensive, we don’t have the skills” etc as an excuse to do nothing?

      • lyndalllinaker says:

        Yes I agree. The more time that I spend in different museums, the more I notice that some organisations have a cohesive and productive operation from the ground up and others have too many blockages moving up and definitely from the top down as far as decision making and implementing strategies for continuous improvement in the museum and making the most of information gathered from visitor research and feedback.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s