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What makes a good COVID-19 dashboard? Tips from our expert panel!

December 10, 2021

Africa Data Hub recently hosted a panel webinar with data experts to share the lessons they have learned while building Covid-19 Dashboards for various African and international newsrooms. Here are some tips and nuggets of wisdom they shared about Covid Dashboards.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, field reporting has become very difficult due to movement restrictions. Newsrooms have evolved their storytelling techniques to relay relatable news to their dynamic audience.  As a result, there is heavy reliance on data and visualisation assisted reporting as a focal resource for Covid-19 updates.

The webinar was hosted on 30 September 2021. The Panel included esteemed data scientist Samer Ahmed, the CTO Odipo Dev Kenya; Adrián Blanco, a Digital Journalism Fellow at Tow Centre Global; Joshua Olufemi, Founder and Publisher at Dataphyte Nigeria and Alastair Otter of Media Hack South Africa.

You can also watch the full recording or listen to the audio version here.

Trends in Data Visualisation

At the beginning of the pandemic, newsrooms mostly used simple graphs, which easily gave the audience an overview of what was going on globally and locally. According to Joshua, in Nigeria and Africa at large, interactive data visualisations for Covid-19 - such as dashboards and trackers -  have become more popular to allow for predictive analysis of the pandemic trajectory and drive policymaking. 

Softwares used to build dashboard projects

Data expert, Samer, recommends using Flourish, which has preset templates to create Covid- 19 related dashboards. He described Flourish as easy to use, runs fast on mobile - which is the most common medium the audience interacts with news - and is free. It does, however, have limitations for designs and templates and is harder to automate than dashboards created from scratch on Javascript. Alastair pointed out that creating a dashboard from scratch is a labour and a capital intensive affair that newsrooms must invest in. 

How to get people to use your dashboard

Readability: Keep the dashboard simple and with few data points to avoid overwhelming the audience with information. Adrián advises that it should be easy for both the audience and journalists to interpret and understand. 

Meaning: For Samer, it is paramount that context is given for every dashboard you create by providing brief explanations of what the data points represent. The more information you can give the audience, the better the message will be understood.

Aesthetic: Avoid having too many data points on the dashboards as they become hard to read/ interact with. Alaistair proposes that you use catchy colours that do not irritate the eye; be sure to customise the themes and design to match your news organisation’s specificity.

Verify your data: Joshua reminds us to fact check and verify any information used on the dashboard to build trust with the audience. Remember, all data sets tell parts of a story, and any wrong figure directly translates to wrong projections and changes the narrative.

How to improve your dashboards:

It is beneficial to ask for feedback from newsrooms to understand what makes a newsworthy visualisation and how to best support their storytelling practices. 

Listen to feedback from the audience to understand the data points they seek to interact with more. For instance, Samer said that he found it helpful to evaluate why and when the audiences interact with local, regional and global data stories. This informs the type of data sets he uses on visuals. It is important to remember that the audience needs are dynamic and one must keep up with them.

You can watch the full webinar recording or listen to the audio version here.

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