Last October, I wrote about a mixed report card Minnesota received on its use of the web to disclose information about the state's business. Today, I'd like to award a Gold Star.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) today unveiled an accountability dashboard that provides increased public visibility of measures the MnSCU system uses to manage for continuous improvement.
Although the dashboard is primarily designed as a tool for the system's trustees, academic leaders and managers, it also provides citizens with a clear line of sight into the strategic priorities of MnSCU, its performance and the progress it needs to make.
Like other state information, this was previously available to the public — unfortunately, like too much public information, in forms not readily usable. The dashboard represents an important step toward transparency and accountability and could be a model for other public agencies.
Here's what the site does right.
Accessibility. Spend much time digging on most text-oriented state web sites, and you'll find that it's difficult to locate the information you seek.
The dashboard is accessible from a link on the homepage (Accountability). High-level information is portrayed graphically via dials arrayed on a single page. And drill downs to richer data and different breakdowns are available from the same place.
Focused measurement. The Trustees asked for tracking of a few key measures that indicate progress against the governing board's four strategic goals (the four gray dials are for measures still being developed). The dashboard concentrates on measures that matter, and links them both to the detail and the higher goal, so the tool can be used by leaders, analysts, managers and the public alike.
The good mix of measures reflects performance thresholds derived from leadership goals (how do we compare with where we want to be), external benchmarks or national comparisons (with others), and tracking of internal six-year trends (with our past performance).
A working tool. It's more costly to provide extra levels of reporting to satisfy different constituencies. Since this accountability tool is the same one being used to manage the system, there's little extra reporting or double entry needed for public reporting. Also important, the dashboard gives users access to actual data in spreadsheets so they can do their own analysis.
Although the main purpose of the dashboard is to support a "culture of continuous improvement," making its reporting more accessible through this web-based tool should have a positive impact on public, legislative and business support of MnSCU. This is where all government agencies should be heading.
[Technical Note: The site recommends disabling pop-up blockers in your browser. I use Firefox and had to do that to get the dashboard to run, but after that its functionality seemed to be fine.]
— Charlie Quimby