Last month The Guardian reported that Barack Obama’s re-election campaign was about to unveil ‘the possible Holy Grail of digital political organizing’. The ‘Obama 2012 Dashboard’ will bring every possible piece of campaign-related real-time data into one online tool. All to set the flight path for a smooth landing back at the White House in November.
These days few self-respecting organizations, whatever their line of business, can seem to do without a dashboard of their own. From its humble origins as a panel shielding carriage drivers from the mud and debris kicked up by their horses, the dashboard has moved up in the world. First along the evolutionary ladder of transport to cars and aircraft, then to computing, information systems, business and gaming, and finally to governments, NGOs and policy institutions of all stripes.
If armies march on their stomachs, organizations live and die by information. As they become larger and their tasks more complex, the need becomes more acute for a single place where activities can be monitored through simple indicators, and where problems can be spotted early.
There is something reassuring to the dashboard. It conjures up images of well-crafted, reliable technology, leaving users to imagine themselves perhaps in command of a classic sports car or the latest games console. If only the world of business or of government was so easily reduced to its dashboard representation, solving problems would be as pleasant as a Sunday drive. Stare too long at your dashboard and all its bright lights, however, at the expense of the world around, and you are more than likely to miss reality hurtling towards you.