Designing a social capital dashboard: study

Study of approaches to presenting social capital data. The research is part of the process of developing the National Performance Framework.

Conclusions and recommendations

The findings of this review suggest that the development of a social capital dashboard for inclusion in the Scottish Government’s new National Performance Framework is feasible. There are several existing dashboards – at the international, national and local level – that have successfully incorporated a range of social capital indicators (whether or not these are explicitly labelled as such), and which have amassed a significant amount of useful trend data on the topic. In the Scottish context, new questions on social context that have been included in the Scottish Household Survey, along with other, existing national level measures, will provide a solid and, hopefully, sustainable source of both aggregate and sub-aggregate level indicators that can be included in the dashboard and usefully inform progress towards key national outcomes. Indeed, the challenge is more likely to lie in attempting to limit the number of indicators given the varied ways in which social capital has been defined and measured to date. One obvious way of narrowing the selection would be to consider whether some prospective measures might sit better elsewhere in the National Performance Framework to assess progress towards goals toward the new National Outcome: ‘we live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe’.

At the same time, the review reinforced the case against the development of a composite measure of social capital. Not only are composite measures often deemed overly reductionist, but they are also vulnerable to methodological critique on the groups that they may inappropriately combine and equivalise different and varied measures. In some senses, these issues take on added significance in the context of a discussion about the measurement of social capital – if, as is often argued, social capital is not a single, unified concept, then attempting to create a single indicator may be unenlightening at best, and misleading at worst. Still, if there remains an appetite for some form of summary measure within a social capital dashboard then it may be worth considering the identification of a key headline indicator in place of a composite measure, or else an aggregate indicator of progress across the measures, such as that used in the ONS Measures of Wellbeing dashboard.

Beyond these findings, the review identified three key factors that will be crucial in ensuring the development of an effective social capital dashboard. The first is clarity from the outset in respect of the purpose of the tool and, relatedly, of the profile of intended users. Thereafter, stakeholder and prospective users should be consulted throughout the development phase – and periodically thereafter – to help ensure a shared understanding of purpose, the identification of the right indicators for inclusion, an optimal user experience, and that the tool evolves in line with changing user needs and demands.

Secondly it will be crucial that the dashboard is as accessible as possible, in line with the transparency agenda, but, at the same time, that the Scottish Government balances its ambition for the tool against a realistic assessment of the financial and technical resources that will be required to develop and maintain it. Maximising the automation of processes wherever possible will go some way towards reducing resourcing requirements, and this in turn may be more feasible in a dashboard comprising a dedicated microsite than one that is embedded within the Scottish Government website.

Thirdly, it is clear then that a significant amount of consideration should be given to the design format and features of a dashboard during the development process, not only to meet accessibility standards but to ensure that what the data actually means is clearly evident.This reinforces the importance of clarity around the intended purpose of the dashboard, and also provides a case for the involvement of design professionals in discussions of purpose.

More generally, and as far as possible, the design of the dashboard should reflect how users are likely to interact with the tool both now and in the future. In practical terms, this will mean developing a site that is ‘device agnostic’ and accessible via a range of platforms, and uses coding that is more modular or generic rather than ‘hard.’

Taken as a whole, the review findings may be said to provide a breakdown of the stages that will likely be required for the effective development of a social capital dashboard for Scotland. This can be summarised as per figure 4.1 below.

Fig.4.1 Stages for developing a social capital dashboard

Stage 1: Assess the feasibility and value
Convene a group of key stakeholders, potentially including policy makers, delivery partners, academics and data experts such as ONS to consider the potential value of a social capital dashboard in general and specifically as part of the NPF, and agree on the potential audience for the tool.

Decide whether to develop a social capital dashboard and the level of resource. If a decision is made to continue, establish a steering group of key stakeholders to oversee this work and promote it.

Stage 2: Agree the intended audience and broad content
Develop an explicit statement on the purpose of a social capital dashboard and its intended users (and be clear about what it is not for.) Agree the high level definition of social capital and the concepts that the dashboard will measure. Develop criteria against which data quality will be assessed and potential indicators can be assessed (e.g. ability to provide robust, nationally representative data, at both aggregate and sub group level that can be updated regularly; likely lifespan of data etc.)

Stage 3: Technical development
Consider the existing administrative and survey data on social capital, and the extent to which this data is included elsewhere in the NPF and where it fits best in relation to agreed criteria (including NPF processes for the number of indicators to be included). Consider the design of the dashboard, how it looks, the extent of any data visualisation, linkages to the NPF and Scotland Performs website and explanatory text.

Consider the level of analysis in relation to geography and the extent to which data can be broken down by demographics. Consider how change and comparative data will be presented (e.g. will local authority data be presented in relation to Scotland as a whole, similar LAs or high performing LAs?) Consider how the dashboard should be updated and maintained and how user feedback will be collected. Consider how the dashboard can be made as accessible as possible given the financial and technical resources required to maintain it.

Stage 4: Testing and pre-launch
Process of piloting and collecting user/stakeholder feedback and refining dashboard.
Consideration of communication for a ‘formal’ launch of the dashboard.

Stage 5: Dashboard goes live
On-going review and maintenance of the dashboard.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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