The Global Health Dashboard Epidemic
Series: Communicating Data for Health Impact
“We have an epidemic of dashboards…we have a dashboard of dashboards.”
In November 2018, I attended a meeting where a government health policy maker from West Africa shared this honest description of global health data visualization in his country. The audience — predominantly public health professionals — laughed.
His comment (and clever use of public health jargon) has stuck with me. I think it’s an accurate reflection of global health data visualization in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Dashboards and exploratory data tools dominate data visualization in global health and are frequently treated as go-to solutions to encourage evidence-based decision-making. What led to their dominance and is this unwelcome tyranny?
What triggered the epidemic?
There is a need to measure progress.
Over the past few decades, demand to measure progress towards global accountability frameworks (like the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals), country-level health strategic plans, and program impact has elevated the importance of robust monitoring & evaluation plans. Monitoring & evaluation frequently requires data that represent different aspects of health service delivery, which can come from multiple sources. Donors need to see if their investments are translating into measurable health outcomes and impact. Sometimes money is linked to performance, which makes analyzing and visualizing relevant data very important. This has helped encourage research and funding towards improving global health data collection, analysis, and visualization.
There is a lot of global health data.
There are two main sources of global health data — household surveys and routine health management information systems — which have separate strengths/weaknesses and can serve different functions.
Nationally-representative household surveys, including the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) (led by USAID) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) (led by UNICEF), are the most commonly used sources of global health data…