Demystifying day-to-day operations to drive public trust, build consensus, and improve outcomes

Many local governments and school districts maintain dedicated pages on their websites for the numerous departments they manage. Too often however, these pages merely house the basics: hours of operation, contact information for key staff, and assorted downloadable PDFs. While that may be helpful to a degree, there’s so much more you could be communicating to your constituents about things that really matter to the community — like goals, performance, and progress.

ClearGov recently expanded its affordable transparency platform to include an easy-to-use department dashboards module expressly for this purpose. The idea is to take the department-specific data that you already track and simply make it accessible to the public and other key stakeholders. Simply put, if you measure it you can display it.

For example, your fire department tracks information like call volume, response times, and probably incidents by type. These are important metrics that you already possess, and sharing them publicly can help you tell a more complete story about your community — one that your constituents need to hear. Why?

Until a resident actually needs its services, the firehouse is just a building they pass on the way to work. The average citizen doesn’t think about the day-to-day operations of the fire department or how it impacts them personally. They probably know that their tax dollars fund it. And, if they ever need to be pulled from a burning building, they know who to call. But, that’s not the whole story.

The fire department does more than extinguish fires

Local fire stations respond to emergency medical aid requests, perform public safety training, issue permits, conduct building inspections, and more. It’s not all sliding down poles and dousing flames. And, educating the public about those important day-to-day operations now will go a long way toward building support for any key initiatives you may have down the road.

Consider this. Is your fire department sufficiently staffed? Is it adequately funded? Properly equipped? If it is, that’s great. You should tell the world. If it isn’t, that’s a problem — and you should STILL tell the world. Why? The more that people in the community know about a particular department and the services it provides, the more likely they are to go to bat for that department.

Likewise, your school district’s food service manager does more than meal planning

School districts not only track a slew of academic KPIs, but hundreds of operational metrics as well. From daily bus runs to the shelf life of electronic devices, the amount of people and resources it takes to keep schools up and running day in and day out is staggering. And these departments do a lot more than keep the lights on. Whether the public realizes it or not, their efforts directly impact student outcomes.

For example, it’s easy to connect the dots between regular nutritious meals and student achievement. But, proving the value of meal programs and ensuring operational efficiency is a daily challenge for district food service managers tasked with stretching modest funds ever further. A department dashboard that publicly reports on metrics like participation rates, cost per meal equivalent, and meals per labor hour can help food service managers reduce waste, control costs, and ultimately serve more students. And, being transparent about those numbers can rally community stakeholders as well.

Sharing a few simple performance metrics with a little context is a good way to convert public indifference into vocal support. Don’t wait for a crisis or a referendum to educate citizens about all the good work your departments do on a daily basis. Start sharing now to establish a foundation of trust. ClearGov’s new department dashboards module makes it easy to establish and maintain a productive online presence for all the important units your agency manages.

Start small and keep the metrics simple and accessible

First of all, creating department dashboards should be easy. It’s all about taking the data you already measure internally and simply making it available (and accessible) externally. That said, you don’t need to share ALL of your data. You can start by picking three or four data points you think might be most meaningful to your residents. Ask yourself:

  • What do you get the most calls and inquiries about?
  • What do you wish people understood better about your department and what it does?
  • What initiatives or achievements are you most proud of?

These are data points you can address on your dashboard and ClearGov’s flexible new module can help you communicate them clearly and effectively — in a visually compelling way that everyone can understand.

Check out the police department dashboard that the city of Morgantown, West Virginia recently launched. The page speaks specifically to the department’s mission and commitment to preserving the quality of life and safety of their community. Through a series of custom charts, the department is able to quickly convey a ten-year history of calls received, crimes committed, arrests made, and citations and warnings issued — all at a glance. The dashboard effectively displays a decade’s worth of data in an easy-to-understand snapshot that’s accessible to both residents and internal stakeholders alike.

Publishing a department dashboard like the one Morgantown created is as easy as populating a few fields in a template. Simply click on a panel design you like and start entering your data. You can add as many metrics panels as you want, and include commentary and graphs where appropriate. You can even create custom charts to display your data with just a few simple clicks. In short, you don’t have to be a web designer or a programmer to create a professional-looking dashboard in a matter of minutes.

Looking for more ideas about how to leverage department dashboards in your community? Check out our Demoville site to view sample use cases. Or, request a personal demo. A dashboards expert can walk you and other members of your team through the ClearGov platform in as little as 15 minutes.

Interested in Department Dashboards?

Join us for “Performance Management Made Easy,” a free 15-minute webinar tour on Wednesday December 11 at 3pm EST.