Using Design Thinking to come up with innovative new ideas

Design thinking as a specific process became prominent in the mid-20th century as designers of many different things began using it to think about the end user’s experience.

By the 1950s and 1960s, people who were designing homes, technology and consumer goods were all doing so by thinking about the people who would eventually use those things. This is the origins of modern design thinking.

Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. It can be applied to anything – services, products, teams, organisations, events – and even just everyday life. And that’s why it’s great for charitable organisations because they often don’t focus on just one product or one service but a whole host of support mechanisms and relationships.

Adopting design thinking is a great way for charities to be innovative. Design thinking is human centred, as it focusses on the user, requiring empathy to really understand what is happening for them – and we know empathy is something you’ve got a lot of!

What are the Steps to Problem Solving this Way?

The key steps in design thinking are highlighted in the diagram below. Work from left to right starting with ‘Empathise’ through to Test’.

1. Empathise

It is imperative to really understand the underlying challenge. At this stage observing, engaging and empathising with people to understand their experiences and motivations, as well as immersing yourself in the physical environment so you can gain a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved. Understanding of the users, their needs, and any problems that may arise will help you with the development of any solutions to meet these needs.

2. Define (the Problem)

”If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” Albert Einstein.

Using the information gathered in the ‘Empathise’ stage, define the core problems that you and your team have identified up to this point. You should seek to define the problem as a problem statement in a human-centred manner. The way to do this is as follows:

  • Who is your user? (Note as many specific details as possible.)
  • What is their deep, unmet need?
  • Why is this insightful? (List the insights you gleaned from your empathetic need-finding process.)

3. Ideate

Now’s the time to start identifying new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, and start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem. Typically techniques such as brainstorm, brainwrite, worst possible idea are used to stimulate free thinking. Try and generate as many ideas or problem solutions as possible at the beginning of the Ideation phase.

4. Prototype

Produce a number of inexpensive, scaled down versions of the solution, so you can investigate the possible solutions to the problem generated in the previous stage. This is an experimental phase, and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the first three stages. The solutions are investigated and either accepted, improved and re-examined, or rejected on the basis of the users’ experiences.

5. Test

Now is the time to vigorously test the complete solution using the best approaches identified during the prototyping phase. As design thinking is an iterative process, the results generated during the testing phase may be used to reconsider some of the problem statements and how people think, behave, and feel.

6. Implement

Now you’ve identified through testing solutions what ideas have the best chance of succeeding, you decide which ones you want to expose to a wider audience. It’s over to you!

Final thoughts…

Has this article convinced you that the technique of design thinking can be applied in charitable organisations? If you’re interested in how others have used it successfully, why not have a look at IDEO – one of the leading organisations in design thinking. They’ve shared a number of case studies that highlight how they’ve used this technique to develop brilliant and innovative solutions for causes they’ve identified.

For further information, tools and resources visit here

Seven myths about innovation

It’s a reality that many charitable organisations operate in a competitive environment.

Pressure exists to expand into new audiences and deepen relationships with beneficiaries, as well as keeping up with the times and exploring new opportunities. There’s a lot of talk about the need for charities to innovate. Indeed, our own Community Fund asks for causes to submit a forward-thinking idea because we believe taking a risk and testing something new, can be a fantastic way to open up new opportunities and lead to a more confident future.

But we understand that innovation can at first feel risky, time consuming or out of reach. It’s often perceived as something only big charities have the freedom, funds and right people to do. In this article, one of Aviva’s Senior Innovation Managers, Richard, aims to highlight some of the common myths that exist about the term innovation to help you think about the word differently.

Myth 1: Innovation is identifying something brand new

Not necessarily. Innovation is about finding a better solution (than exists today), that adds value by meeting a new or unrealised need. It can occur anywhere in the charity e.g. engagement, creative, research, strategy process etc.

Myth 2: Innovation is having a lightbulb moment

Innovation is not just a fresh idea. Ideas, whilst part of the innovation mix, don’t necessarily meet a need or add value alone. Innovation is about borrowing and developing ideas to suit the situation and crucially meet a need and adds value. Innovation involves: iterating, testing, stakeholder buy-in and refinement to allow you to move from concept to delivery.

Myth 3: Innovation is all about using technology

It’s true that technology often enables or accelerates innovation e.g. by allowing easy access to new audiences, scaling processes or removing the need for large numbers of employees. It doesn’t, however, need to be a prerequisite for innovation success. Innovation is a lot wider – it can mean cultural shifts or new ways of working or new beneficiaries. It can be done by one person or a whole organisation.

Myth 4: Innovation is popular.

Humans generally dislike change. Self-preservation makes us conformists and it takes a lot of effort to accept and support something new. Most organisations have an innate ‘immune system’ that kills things that go outside the perceived norm. Recognising this and appreciating when it is happening can help you move forward.

Myth 5: We haven’t got the right minds or people in our organisation to innovate.

You don’t need someone technically minded or a digital guru – what you need are lots of good ideas and you most likely already have the basis of these already available in your organisation. Your employees and volunteers, even your beneficiaries, will have excellent insights into what needs to be done, what could change, what could be tested. The key is prioritising and investing in the most suitable innovations for your organisation and at the right time.

Myth 6: Innovation is done elsewhere.

Whatever your role and whatever your team, you can benefit from at least looking at how you can be more innovative. As a concept, a principle and an approach, it’s there for everyone.

Myth 7: Innovation is expensive and exclusive

Innovation doesn’t need to cost anything. Why not try adopting at least a few techniques, principles or processes to start you off and see what new ideas and benefits it might lead to!

If you’ve found this article interesting, why not also read:

How relevant is innovation for charities?

Innovation doesn’t need to mean expensive

Four Ways to Future Proof your Charity in the Digital World

There are many benefits for charities to improve their digital skills today.

Embracing digital today can be the key to your charity’s success in the future. In a digital-first world, it’s important to understand how emerging trends and channels can enhance your charity’s activities over the next years.

A strategic approach towards digital can help you:

  • Increase impact
  • Improve service delivery
  • Explore an improved used of data
  • Increase income from new channels

Looking ahead, here are four ways to future-proof your charity in the digital world.

According to the Charity Digital Skills report, only 35% of charities are up to speed with how digital trends are affecting their charity’s work. Do you want to find out more? please see charity digital tool kit. 

1. Set up a digital strategy – Many charities are using digital channels to reach their supporters but not all of them have a set digital strategy. There’s no need to be a digital expert to go from a tactical to a more strategic digital use. You can start by mapping out your current channels and how you will make the most of them.

2. Build your digital skills – One of the biggest challenges for charities is the lack of funding to build up the team’s digital skills. You don’t necessarily need a big budget to access free digital courses and webinars that can help you improve your digital skills. What you need is the buy-in from your stakeholders to embrace digital transformation from your IT infrastructure to the processes that can future-proof your charity.

3. Embrace a digital culture – You can’t plan your charity’s digital future without the internal buy-in and support from your board. Many charities feel that they lack the internal digital culture to support a broader digital transformation. That’s why it’s important to get your leaders and trustees to understand the power of digital and how it can benefit your organisation. A more agile and collaborative environment can be the key to cultivating a digital mindset that favours your future digital plans.

4. Think of the users’ needs first – The best way to future-proof your charity is to focus on your supporters’ needs and the tactics to address them. Digital channels should help you learn more about the changing user needs and behaviours. You should be able to explore how social media channels, email communications or even your website can bring you closer to your supporters. It can even be a great opportunity to increase your impact and improve your service delivery by reaching your supporters on their preferred method of communication

When it comes to future-proofing your charity, aim to be digitally ambitious. Start small and explore how you your digital ambitions can help you deliver the highest value for your users even with limited resources and time.

Please see extra links which may help you and

Measuring your impact effectively – part one

Do you have the right measurements in place to track against your goals? Learn how to measure, quantify and communicate your impact to prove your charity’s worth.

Organisations are no longer measured purely on their outputs but also on how they achieve social and environmental goals. We know that, for many of you, measuring and reporting on your impact can be quite daunting and complex.

So, throughout 2020 we’re pleased to offer a free, two part webinar on ‘Measuring the Difference Your Work Makes’ delivered by our expert partners at the Foundation for Social Improvement.

This two-part webinar series is open to all causes.

This is a recording of the first webinar held on Wednesday 29th January. It provides an overview of evaluation approaches and will equip you with the skills to effectively demonstrate the impact of your organisation.

Please allow 90 minutes to watch the recording in full. A printable version of the slides used can be found here.

If you’d like to join an upcoming live presentation of this training with the opportunity to ask your own questions, here are the dates. Look out for invitations to join via our Aviva Community Facebook Group.

Dates for future impact measurement webinars:

Innovation doesn’t need to mean expensive

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “Innovation” as ‘(the use of) a new idea or method’. At first reading, this suggests that innovation is all about novelty – radical new approaches, untested methods, and world-changing ideas.

But this interpretation is simply impractical and inaccessible for most small charities, and in fact it undersells the value of trying to be more innovative.

In our experience at the Foundation for Social Improvement (The FSI), small charities are among the most naturally innovative organisations around. With creative use of limited resources, small and necessarily collaborative teams, and a close-up view of beneficiaries’ needs, it’s instinctive for many organisations to be flexible and responsive – and hugely innovative! 

However, sometimes these conditions can also be restraints, and when we’re focusing so much on the day-to-day pressures it can be easy to get stuck in a rut and just keep ploughing on. This means we miss out on opportunities to improve services, increase efficiencies, and take a look at the bigger picture and adjust where we sit in it.

So, we wanted to share some top tips for encouraging innovative thinking into your organisation – some tools and approaches that won’t be burdensome but will open up new opportunities to increase your impact.

  • Embed a culture of reflection and focus on your strengths – the most effective innovative ideas build on past learning and seek to increase the impact of what’s working well. Certainly, make the changes needed when things don’t work, but don’t forget to look at what’s succeeding and how you can grow this, or how you can identify the success factors and apply them elsewhere. At the FSI, we do a short team debrief after any and every project or event, and this means that we are continually refining our approach and scoping out opportunities. So, consider setting up a team meeting at key project milestones (and remember you can treat fundraising, marketing, governance etc. as projects too) to look at: what worked, why, what can we do more of, and how can we make it even better…
  • Create the space – it’s really difficult to think differently when you’re focused on the day-to-day, so it’s essential that you find moments to step back and have these conversations. Make sure your team away days have space for big picture conversations or reviewing the overall direction, rather than being relentlessly focused on detail. Or try and build in a creative thinking section to a quarterly team meeting – you could even combine this with a Walk and Talk to get those thoughts moving.
  • Be consciously objective and thoughtful about new ideas – it’s common to let our personal biases or histories cloud our judgement when considering ideas that might affect our jobs, and it’s really hard to override that! Create tools or frameworks to enable productive and more objective conversations, such as an ‘Options Appraisal’ – a few questions or principles you assess every new idea against, such as “does this meet our mission”, “do we have the skills and knowledge in-house to deliver it”, “what is the long-term potential of this”.
  • Build networks and access different perspectives – ask your supporters and volunteers for ideas, connect with other local or similar organisations and pool your resources (and minimise risk) by working in collaboration, and follow leaders from your industry on social media and see what they’re talking about. You can learn lots from having open conversations and learning from others’ mistakes and successes.
  • Involve your clients and community in the conversation – one of the best ways to see your work differently and identify opportunities is to ask those who access your services! There’s no point “innovating” if it doesn’t meet your beneficiaries’ needs, so find regular and inclusive ways to get feedback and consult on your strategy. Keep it proportionate but thoughtful – for example making sure you have a thought-through evaluation framework that involves qualitative questions too, or holding focus groups when planning new programmes.
  • And finally, don’t feel pressured to make huge changes – small, incremental changes can add up to something much bigger and more effective over the long term. Refining your services, increasing efficiencies, smoothing out administrative hiccups all count as innovation, and may feel much more achievable and relevant.

This article is written by Lindsay Harrod, Consultancy and Development Manager at the Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI), a charity we’re proud to be partnering with in their mission to support small charities to become sustainable, independent, accountable and effective through training, advice, conferences and campaigns including Small Charity Week. Find out more at

The Decision Jam

Here at Aviva, we’re proud to have been partners with the British Red Cross since 2016 and have extended this to 2021. From aiding disaster relief to providing strategic assistance, our expertise in risk, strategy and innovation are helping them build resilience in the face of crises.

Ben, Head of Fundraising Innovation at the British Red Cross, is part of a small collection of innovators that create, develop and deliver new ideas that help raise vital funds to support the great work they do.  

 A couple of recent ideas they’ve launched are a virtual challenge event to raise funds for their refugee services work, and a family subscription pack that helps bring kids up with strong charitable values.  

As a team, they use a range of innovation techniques to help them come up with new ideas, align on priorities, and make decisions fast. We’re thrilled they have offered to share with you one of their favourite and most versatile workshops of all time: The Decision Jam.  

 What’s The Decision Jam?!

This is a workshop to help you collaborate effectively and make decisions in 60 minutes; all while avoiding the terrors of unstructured meetings with no results. It’s perfect for group problem-solving, fleshing out challenges and direction-setting. Ben and his team have used it at the British Red Cross recently to:  

 ● Align the team on what work to prioritise  

● Decide what to do for their Christmas party (board games night was the winner!) 

● Get their whole Department coming up with new ideas to help increase collaboration 

All the exercises in the Decision Jam are based on the principles of innovation practises like the Design, Sprint, and blend the very best of Design Thinking and Agile working. But you don’t need to know any of that to make it work!  

If you need to get some decisions made quickly in your organisation, why not give it a try and let us know how you found it?

What you need

To get you up and running in no time, here are two handy documents with all the info you’ll need: 

Facilitator’s Guide: This is your cheat-sheet with everything you need to facilitate your own Decision Jam. Follow this guide and Ben guarantees you’ll be getting compliments after the workshop for how well it was run. 

Decision Jam deck: This editable powerpoint gives you the visual template to guide the workshop itself. Ben claims it’s tried, tested and hasn’t failed to deliver yet! 

Managing events

Fundraising events are often a key fixture in many charity’s calendar. But ensuring everything goes off without a hitch demands attention to a dizzying variety of details. Here we’ll run down the most common obligations and risk considerations you’ll need to be aware of. 

Anyone organising an event has a duty and responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of anyone involved in any way – that means volunteers, staff, participants, spectators and neighbours. Please see a link to how should you protect your voluntary workers & willing helpers   

If you’re the event organiser, the primary ‘duty of care’ rests with you, although this may be shared with any persons providing advice or services connected to your event. It’s therefore your responsibility to ensure that all legislation relevant to the activity has been complied with. 

Event risk reduction checklist

Before we go into detail, here are a few quick starting points:

  • Draw up an event management plan that outlines the risk, regulations and other requirements that demand action. Please see a link to the Health & Safety Executive guide on Event Management
  • Check with your local authority as to whether a licence is required for your event.
  • Make sure that the local police and fire departments are informed of the event.
  • Ensure that contractors’ risk assessments are up to date and in order, and that they have adequate and appropriate insurances in place.
  • Make sure that someone is monitoring the weather so that alternative plans can be made if necessary.
  • Firework displays should only be carried out by experienced and well-trained operators who have visited the venue and assessed the safety risks.
  • In respect of inflatables, the operator must have sufficient training and knowledge regarding the safe use of the devices. Please see a link to Safe Operation of Inflatables

Third-party event organisers

If you’re putting on a larger event, you might want to employ the expertise of a specialist events company. A number of different companies may be used by an event organiser, depending on factors such as size and skill requirements.

If a separate company is used, the extent and contractual responsibilities need to be understood between the charity and the event organiser. It shouldn’t be assumed that the event organiser has insurance to cover the event, so your charity will need to obtain proof of their insurance, plus the limit of liability afforded by their policy to ensure it’s sufficient to take into account your exposure. 

Failing to ensure that all these checks are made could result in the charity being the only place where compensation could be sought.

Local Authority Licensing

Events may need a licence or authorisation from the local authority for events open to the public or on public or private land – even if no admission charge is taken. 

Charities should check with the local authority to ensure they have permission and whether appropriate licences need to be sought. It’s likely that a licence will be needed for events in sports grounds or stadiums, or for events that involve public entertainment, such as:

  • sale of alcohol
  • music and dancing
  • provision of live music
  • performance of theatrical events or plays
  • film presentation
  • gambling
  • sporting events.

In addition to this, any event located in any park, recreation ground, public space or local authority-owned land will require explicit local authority permission, even if none of the licences above are needed.

Traffic impact assessment 

If the event is on the highway or road, the responsibility for public safety also rests with the organiser. If the event requires a road to be closed, this must be done by applying to the Highways or Roads Authority. This will require a minimum of three months’ notice. For larger events, a detailed management structure should be drawn up and a full risk assessment carried out. 

Venue and facilities safety

Comprehensive consideration of every health and safety issue your event will involve is vital to protecting all participants from harm, and your charity from liability. 

Key areas to consider include:

  • First aid facilities – do the size of the event, the numbers involved and the nature of activities undertaken require external first aid support?
  • Fire safety – have you carried out an assessment of the risk of fire and formulated evacuation procedures?
  • Communication, lighting, heating and electricity – how will staff communicate across site? Is your electrical equipment checked and installed by a qualified electrician? What hazards are posed by your heating solutions?
  • Emergency services – are police and fire services aware of your event and does its size require their presence?
  • Catering services – are caterers in possession of the necessary permits and registrations and do their cooking operations require further inspection by the fire service?
  • Temporary structures – are any marquees, tents or similar fit for purpose, erected professionally and separately insured?

Beyond this, there are a range of other considerations that come into play depending on what your event entails – are you hiring inflatables, setting off fireworks, marshalling a race or conducting activities on water? 

We’ve compiled a comprehensive Event Health and Safety factsheet that gives you an in-depth checklist of all the key factors you’ll need to take into account. We suggest you download and review this in detail. 

Free risk management guidance

While you’ll find lots of tips on how to reduce your risks within the Knowledge Library, you can also contact our specialists:

Risk Helpline – a source of qualified advice that can help with all your risk management needs.

Call 0345 366 6666  


Specialist Partner Network

We also have access to a range of products and services – available at discounted prices for Aviva customers – helping to create an environment with reduced risk. From fire to escape of water, security to motor, health and safety to business resilience – all our partners are well established with a pedigree in the risk management sector.

Preparing for unexpected disruption and crisis

This article explores developing a Crisis Management plan for your organisation and making sure your processes are in place before you need to respond to any disruption. 

What do you think of when you hear the term “crisis”? 

While most people think of natural disasters, like a tsunami or earthquake, there are many things that can cause a crisis that may result in a business having to act such as amenities failure or something denying you access to your premises or cyber issues. Having a set protocol or policy to deal with any disruption of the business is a sensible precaution that helps your business respond effectively to events outside your control. 

The following templates can help you prepare for a crisis situation and navigate it successfully. 

Crisis Management Team Template 

To prepare your organisation for any potential crisis, this blank template helps you create a written guide so that your people use the correct procedures. This document includes:

  • Deciding how to get the right people in the right place at the right time, to respond effectively to an incident or crisis
  • Defining the different roles and responsibilities of individuals in the response team
  • Creating a template meeting agenda to ensure the key areas are covered when managing an incident or crisis
  • Providing example triggers that would cause you to invoke your Crisis Team

Download Crisis Management Team template

Log Keeping Template

Once your Crisis Team meets, there needs to be a consistent way to record information and decisions. The Log Keeping Template can be thought of as an official diary of events and is useful for: 

  • Providing a structured way to record information and decisions taken during incidents or crisis
  • Maintaining good communications, situational awareness and decision making
  • Assisting with ‘Lessons Learnt’ sessions after the event and for audit purposes

Download Log Keeping template

Situation Report Template

In order to keep your Crisis Team focused on managing and resolving problems created by the crisis, you can use the Situation Report Template. These are useful for a number of reasons, including accountability and transparency. The template gives you a framework to help identify and record the following: 

  • What has happened 
  • What you know at key milestones throughout the incident or crisis situation
  • What has been done and what actions have been taken and by whom
  • What the impacts are, and who is affected
  • What your priorities are, including how these decisions have been reached

Download Situation Report template

Shaping the future of your organisation with PEST analysis

Creating a strategy based on simple tools like a PEST analysis can help your organisation to minimise potential disruption and maximise potential opportunities. This quick guide shows you how to get started and work with others to make the most of it. 

Being better prepared for the future 

Understanding what changes are likely to happen outside your organisation is vital for building a strategy that creates a foundation for ensuring growth and success. A PEST analysis is a simple and widely used tool that helps you consider external factors that could affect your organisation – from political and economic factors to societal and technological changes. 

This analysis can help you identify the big changes that might impact your operations or service users. You can then develop a strategy that takes these factors into account and plan how your organisation may need to adapt to accommodate these changes, which helps you to improve decision-making or attract donors or service users.

Before you start your PEST analysis

Getting a range of different perspectives will improve the result of your PEST analysis. Many organisations use workshops to do this, but if your participants are in different locations, you might find video conferencing, online forms or collaborative brainstorming software, such as GroupMap, better suited to your needs.

Tips for large groups

If you need to work with a large group of people, consider dividing them up into smaller groups for the initial discussions. Bring the ideas together afterwards to remove any duplication.

Complete your PEST analysis in three steps

Step 1: Think of as many factors as you can

Use the template to consider potential impacts to your organisation. Use the sections to guide your discussions – Political, Economic, Social and Technological.  

Step 2: Discuss and rate the impact of the factors 

As a group, consider these questions about each factor to help you identify those most critical to shaping your strategy: 

  • What’s the likelihood of that factor occurring?
  • What’s the likely impact on the organisation and the service users? 
  • How would you rate (or rank) the factors by importance?

Step 3: Identify the opportunities and threats for the organisation

Review the most important factors to create a clear view of where you need to focus your strategy. This time, consider:

  • What opportunities they create for your organisation
  • Which might threaten your ability to continue providing services
  • What you need to do to build on the opportunities 
  • How you can adapt to minimise the threat

Top 5 tips to make your dashboards a success

As you can probably imagine, with some 15 million customers in the UK alone, we hold a lot of data at Aviva. So much so, we’ve now created a global data science practice (Aviva Quantum) working across 16 countries, where we build a deep, data-driven understanding of our customers and their needs. Along with that comes huge amounts of daily and monthly reporting and turning all that data in to something visual and usable. 

One of the most frequently used reporting methods is a dashboard. This is essentially a visual summary of various pieces of important information, typically used to give an overview of how you are doing against your goals, targets and success measures. It’s a valuable way of updating your trustees, colleagues and grant givers and sparking conversations around what’s working and what’s not. Maybe you already create one in your organisation?

A well-designed dashboard can be a great asset to providing numbers into the hands of many across your organisation. However, delight can quickly be replaced by despair as it’s all too easy to find yourself caught up in a time-consuming production cycle questioning whether anyone is finding this information useful.  In this article we share our top tips to getting and staying in a positive place with any dashboards you create in your own organisation.

Example dashboard design

Tip 1: Place the most important content at the top

This might seem to be stating the obvious but it’s surprising how often this doesn’t happen. The challenge here is working out what is most important. There are two assumptions regularly applied. One assumption is that information for senior people must go at the top. A second assumption is you must start with information about the total population (on the basis all other metrics refer to population sub-sets) and it seems logical to start at the “top”. The most important information should answer the question that is asked the most times. 

If your dashboard is going to be used by a wide variety of people, consider personalising pages and having multiple pages to your dashboard to suit particular audiences. The most important metric for one user may not be the same for all. With the modular design of many dashboard creation tools, this often produces a better, more relevant, solution for users that doesn’t increase the time it takes to produce the dashboard. Get some user input and feedback – engaging with dashboard users to understand what they would like to know and what will change as a result of knowing the answer will help determine the most important information to sit at the head of the dashboard. 

If you are creating a new dashboard, consider what the honeymoon period might be. New initiatives often generate a hive of activity at launch with almost obsessive monitoring of changes. These numbers are generally less interesting a few weeks in. You might want to consider using a launch section to a dashboard that is refreshed more frequently and has an agreed stop date once there is no longer the need to have high frequency updates.

Don’t let focussing on the top of the dashboard mean you get lazy at the bottom. Every piece of content needs to answer a question – if not, hit the delete key.

Tip 2: Choose the right metric

This is the critical component in keeping your dashboard informative and actively used over time. Defaulting to the regular targets in your organisation is not uncommon but does not necessarily mean they are the most useful. Are the measures you’re reporting on something your audience feel they can influence? 

Are the targets appropriate to achieve? For example, it would be an admirable aspiration to have a goal to double donor numbers, but if you’re tracking at only 5% growth this is somewhat unrealistic without a clear strategy to change direction. Tracking an unrealistic target and colouring it red won’t help.

A more engaging metric for those tasked with increasing donor numbers might be to look at whether you are closing the gap. Month on month tracking with a target to beat the previous months growth is likely to feel more relevant. 

Another consideration for each metric is whether the absolute value is of most interest. Would a comparison referenced to another data point add more value? If anything you’ve reported on is met with the response “it would be interesting to know…” it should be explored further to avoid the need for a wealth of comparisons that are tricky to produce and of unclear purpose what question they support.

Tip 3: Defining an appropriate level of detail

How much history do you really need? It can be tempting to include a large amount of historic data, but this is precisely the time to challenge what purpose that history is serving by including it. In the majority of cases, dashboards are introduced to provide access to a data view of what’s happening right now. Unless what happened two years ago is relevant to what’s happening now, a lengthy history is unlikely to be required. Keep it clean, strip time periods back to a realistic and relevant reference window. 

Accuracy is always a consideration when presenting data and dashboards are no exception but take a minute to consider what level of detail will be appropriate for your audience. When discussing monetary values, do your senior stakeholders such as trustees quote the pence alongside the pound values? Do they round in appropriate units and refer to numbers in thousands? The underlying numbers need to stack up and be accurately calculated using the absolute values but the value you display should talk in the same language as your dashboard users. Most dashboards could benefit from some additional formatting of the numerical values such as rounding up numbers or reduction of decimal places. Small adjustments can really help the important data points stand out.  

Equally don’t go too far the other way and round up too far so that the numbers don’t ever seem to move. This requires a bit of trial and error if you are measuring something for the first time to find the sweet spot of enough but not too much detail.

Tip 4: Choose the right visual

Dashboards that provide the most value are the ones that are easy to digest. Ideally it will be easy to absorb what the visuals are communicating without having to work excessively to figure it out. Dashboard tools are notorious for using a wide variety of quirky visuals to make dashboards look ‘interesting’. However, this is often at the expense of ease of interpretation.

  • Avoid pie charts and donut charts if you are inviting your reader to draw comparisons. Bar charts are far quicker and more accurate to interpret.  
  • Only use line charts when the data points have a natural sequence, almost always a time sequence. 
  • If you’re unsure, we’d recommend looking at some of the many resources on the internet that give guidance on choosing the right chart making it easy to adopt best practice. You might like to look at:

Choosing the right visual for a dashboard introduces another consideration. What will this chart look like over time? How much movement do we realistically expect? If a metric is limited in the expected movement over time, consider whether a data visual is needed. Stating the absolute value could be more appropriate. 

Tip 5: Invest time in your creative design

There will always be an element of subjectivity as to what looks best but adopting a few core principles can help make your dashboard appealing.

There is often a desire to cram everything onto a single page for ease of use. This might have been helpful when printed versions were popular, but today most solutions are circulated digitally and this is less of a necessity. Make use of whitespace – allow each visual to have the space it requires to comfortably tell its message to improve readability. Whitespace on dashboards is like pausing when speaking, it helps us avoid overload and concentrate on absorbing the prioritised information in front of us. The easiest way to create more whitespace is to remove all unnecessary detail from your dashboard. Do you really need a chart title and axis label that say broadly the same thing?

Choice of colours and consistent use of colour help us navigate dashboards. Dashboard users assume a colour category on one chart has the same meaning on another so where possible maximise consistency. If your organisation has preferred colours it may be helpful to adopt these to signpost your data to stand out relative to other providers. When looking to create stand out of specific data points, a more muted colour can help to provide contrast. Subtle greys are regularly used to subdue some data points with a stand out colour to draw attention to a particular point. 

When setting up your dashboard, check your design works under all circumstances. Test some extreme data values to be sure your design still works and you haven’t lost part of a chart off the scale. If you’re setting up a new dashboard it might help to simulate some data to give the illusion of the dashboard appearance after six months in operation, a helpful check to see if you successfully adopted the earlier tips!

Once you’ve designed and built your dashboard, it needs to work hard and pay back on your invested effort. Help your users get familiar with it, strike up a conversation that leans on the content to highlight its value and one final golden rule, if a question can be answered using the dashboard – share the dashboard so new users become advocators of your masterpiece.