Think of a data dashboard as a bird’s-eye view of data that gets automatically updated in real-time. It’s like a news app meant only for internal use, and the ultimate goal is to make repeat reporting processes more efficient. Aaron Bycoffe of The Huffington Post and Derek Williams and Jacob Harris of The New York Times explained this on Saturday.

Dashboards work best when reporters and developers collaborate to determine the information that would be most useful to display. And they’re flexible: If things change, you can always go back and add new fields or take others away.

Notification systems can be built into dashboards to further extend their efficiency. In an ideal world, reporters will be monitoring dashboards of their own volition, but they can sign up to get alerts when new data is available — a helpful backstop to distraction.

To determine if a data set would be a good candidate for a dashboard, consider these characteristics:

  • Does the data come via an API, a feed or a mobile app? Any data that’s delivered automatically from some source is a candidate.
  • Is the data released on a regular schedule? This isn’t a requirement, but it’s good practice to make sure your data set is updated on a consistent schedule. (And if the data is only updated annually, it may not be worth it to build a dashboard for it.)
  • Data that you need to check for changes, such as percentage change, makes good use of data dashboards.
  • Data dashboards are helpful for publically searchable sites with a poor user interface, or that are lacking a certain functionality you or your reporters need.
  • Any information that reporters ask for more than twice may be a good candidate for data dashboards. It may not be worth the effort, but pay attention to what people are looking for, and weigh whether building some automation for it would help build up your newsroom’s information infrastructure.

Like many reporting tools, it turns out that dashboards meant for internal use can be of use for your audience, too. Many great, public-facing applications started out as dashboards. The session tipsheet has more tips for how you can get started, building dashboards either for yourself or your newsroom — or eventually your community.