by Kristen Gardner-Volle, MS, Evaluation Plus & Alexis Krause, MPH, Community and Cancer Science Network
Most programs and initiatives gather a lot of data. Having the capacity to hone in on the most important data to help improve the process is a common challenge. This is where a dashboard can be useful. A dashboard is a visual snapshot of your data. Dashboards use charts and graphs built from underlying data in a spreadsheet or database to highlight patterns in data. What elements get included in a dashboard are based on specific questions about how a strategy is expected to perform. Although it seems simple, it is a powerful way to synthesize and interpret data in a visual form.
Why a Dashboard Creating a dashboard from the existing Scholars Program tracking tool addressed several challenges: (1) project leadership was primarily focused on executing program activities and had little time for record-keeping; (2) the tracking tool dataset was getting too big to focus on the most critical information; and (3) notes about required follow-up and next steps were getting lost with so much information. Providing a quick visual snapshot of the data helped direct the project team’s attention to the most important information.
There are many dashboard tools on the market for purchase that will populate dashboards at the click of a button. We built our visual dashboard in the same Excel workbook we use to track outreach and recruitment. While we are not experts in creating dashboards, we found we could create a customized dashboard with minimal effort. The visual elements of our dashboard, once developed, allowed us to quickly answer questions about the size and strength of our recruitment pool and what immediate actions we needed to take to course correct.
Using Dashboards to Grow Our Recruitment Strategy Since our tracking tool was designed to hold a lot of data, we first had to determine the most critical data points for understanding our immediate recruitment goals. We chose fields that would trigger further conversation between team members that would encourage them to think about next steps or strategy. For example, listing how many contacts were “closed” vs. “open” led to a discussion about whether follow-up communication was needed. A graph showing which sectors our contacts belonged to led to a conversation about whether we had enough scholars interested from the sectors we needed. Charts displaying the outcomes from our contacts led to conversations about what strategies they were responding to and what they were not. These discussions helped us identify critical next steps to adapt recruitment and outreach strategies to meet our recruitment goals.
In order to identify action steps to achieve recruitment goals, we made reviewing the data dashboard a standing agenda item. The team dedicated time on each agenda to debrief on closed contacts and focus on new strategies for open contacts. The discussion further strengthened the quality of our data. As the team reflected on the visual dashboard components, it reminded them of the details of their outreach; they could focus on strategic approaches and ways in which to make the best use of their time. As a standing agenda item, it created a great opportunity to discuss the communication and recruitment process and provided a context for the team to identify areas for immediate improvement, and surfaced important questions to strengthen future cycles.
Implementing a Dashboard in Your Own Work Dashboards are effective tools to help a team focus on progress toward meeting goals and identifying critical steps in a process. Dashboards focus a team’s attention where it is needed most, which is helpful when team members are engaged in different aspects of the work. Lastly, and most importantly, they are a simple tool you can use whenever you need to stay on track and make data-informed decisions. During the recruitment period, we learned a lot about how to get the most out of our data. Below are recommendations for teams considering a similar process.
Be flexible and reasonable
Don’t be a perfectionist. You may have missing data or an incomplete picture especially when you are gathering data in real time. Focus on what the data tells you and make decisions accordingly. The point is to use your data, not make it look pretty.
Start with a simple dashboard that summarizes totals and focuses your attention on the most important issues. You can always add on more nuanced data and interactivity, such as pivot tables, once you have a better feel for what you want to know and how you’ll use this extra information.
Actually use your data
Agree upon targets and measure progress against those targets. The data collected is arbitrary if you do not know what you’re aiming for.
Set a recurring time to review the data and engage your team in what it means. Leave with clear action steps to move forward with the project.
Realize that what you want to know about your program may change over time and that’s okay. Adjust your tracking tool and dashboard accordingly to serve your goals.
Set aside time at the end of your program cycle for a debrief or After Action Review to reflect and improve for the future.
It’s nearly impossible today to find someone whose life has not been impacted by cancer in some way – it might be someone they know fighting a cancer battle, or even their own life-changing diagnosis. While decades of research, innovation, and prevention efforts have resulted in life-saving improvements in diagnosis, care, and survivorship, thousands of families still lose a loved one to cancer each year.
Yet while mortality rates are declining nationally, cancer remains a leading cause of death and some groups of people experience a higher burden of cancer incidence and mortality. In Wisconsin, the disproportionate impact of cancer is startling.
Wisconsin has the nation’s second largest Black–White disparity in lung cancer mortality, and the Milwaukee metropolitan area has the largest Black–White disparity in lung cancer mortality among metropolitan areas nationwide. Additionally, Wisconsin has the nation’s third largest Black–White disparity in female breast cancer mortality. Alongside differences by race and ethnicity, geographic mapping led by the MCW Division of Epidemiology has identified disparities in mortality of twice the expected rate in some areas of the state.
Today, through a multi-year, nearly $10 million AHW investment, a broad coalition of partners called the Community and Cancer Science Network (CCSN) is convening community organizations and academic medicine researchers to identify innovative solutions to address these disparities.
While the project’s aims are stated simply – to eliminate cancer disparities – addressing the complexities of the root causes contributing to these issues require a thoughtful, multi-faceted approach that take into consideration a variety of factors and needs.
The Community and Cancer Science Network grew out of an innovative developmental phase originated by AHW, which brought together a team of experts from community organizations and academic medicine to develop a deeper understanding of Wisconsin’s breast and lung cancer disparities and propose solutions.
“AHW provided the foundation for CCSN. It allowed a team to look at cancer disparities from many different perspectives and use that understanding to propose solutions, which include three initiatives coordinated by a central body known as the Integration Hub,” said Jenelle Elza, RN, strategic partnerships manager at the American Cancer Society and community co-PI for the CCSN Integration Hub.
“We’re seeing the impact within organizations and structures. Our peers from across the state are looking to us because they’re hungry to do something different.” - Kim Kinner In its initial year, the CCSN Integration Hub established a full advisory team, built developmental evaluation capacity, and identified community and academic leaders who would collaboratively shape proposals for impacting three key areas identified as needing focus: a pilot curriculum for community members and early-career biomedical researchers to address issues of mistrust and misunderstanding, understanding the role of mammographic quality in breast cancer disparities, and supporting multi-sector collaborative workgroups focused on furthering the work around critical issues of cancer disparities.
“The idea behind the integration hub is to build collaborative infrastructure across the state,” said Dr. Melinda Stolley, Anne E. Heil Professor of Cancer Research, Professor of Medicine, and associate director of cancer control and prevention at the Medical College of Wisconsin, who is the initiative’s academic Co-PI . “This initiative provides that environment; a structure and framework to do this work together and create sustainable solutions that can be applied to other focal areas in the future.”
In 2020 and 2021, the network launched its initiatives to address each of these areas. Supported by $4.8 million in AHW investment, the initiatives are bringing together the efforts of the world-renowned MCW Cancer Center with the expertise and experience of Wisconsin-based organizations including the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation, Center for Urban Population Health, House of Grace, Kingdom Ministries, the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation, the Wisconsin Cancer Collaborative and more.
A Research and Community Scholars Program has formed its inaugural class aimed at building a generational change in how medical mistrust and misunderstanding is approached.
A Mammographic Quality Project, whose team is growing to include partners from across the state, is examining whether mammography imaging, interpretation, and follow-up quality are influencing breast cancer disparities in Wisconsin while working to develop local and regional collaborative teams to sustain quality metrics.
The Collaborative Work Group initiative is working to build teams of diverse community and academic perspectives who will develop and implement integrated approaches addressing Wisconsin’s breast and lung cancer disparities. The teams will learn together, create collectively, and overcome issues of trust and power imbalances.
The Integration Hub recognizes that in addressing the complexities of cancer, tangible results may not be seen in health outcomes for years.
“Our wins are different than a traditional initiative,” said Kim Kinner, MA, senior director of cancer control partnerships at the American Cancer Society and community co-PI for the CCSN Integration Hub. “We’re seeing the impact within organizations and structures. Our peers from across the state are looking to us because they’re hungry to do something different.”
It's the foundation for innovation that has promise to impact the health of Wisconsinites for generations to come.