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Interrogating the dashboard

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The project explores the role played by dashboards in allowing individuals and institutions to interact with and act upon Big Data in organisational and everyday contexts.

In recent times, dashboards have become increasingly common features of business, public policy and everyday life. The term refers to a way of representing multiple indicators, data and news, in real time and side-by-side. Organisations have historically built dashboards so as to display what were defined as 'key performance indicators', for example, on which decisions can be based and taken. However, with the rise of Big Data and the proliferation of smart devices in everyday life, this type of display is increasingly available for individuals for everyday activities. Many examples – from London’s Dashboard to Google Now – offer ways of bringing together various sources of data into a handy, usable and actionable format. The project pursues different lines of enquiry in relation to dashboards, their genealogy, evolution and ubiquitous presence as part of everyday life. Firstly, we intend to explore how dashboards problematise and expand the notion of risk. Risk is a key concept on how contemporary societies are governed, managed and theorised by social scientists, and has been previously analysed via particular techniques (such as audit and accounting) through which the future is represented numerically. Dashboards offer a very different numerical representation of a future that is constantly emerging without moments of static evaluation as provided by audit and other forms of measure. In this, the numbers and indicators contained in dashboards resemble market prices.

Indeed, financial markets (and the digital displays they use) might be seen as one of the progenitors of dashboards more generally. Secondly, dashboards often form a basis on which to reflect critically on how data exists in everyday life, how it fits into practices of decision-making, and the methods involved in making data useful. Thirdly, the spread of dashboards also involves the spread of a particular vision of agency and authority in which individuals are constantly navigating, deciding, strategising and interpreting on the basis of constant updates. The main project questions are: how are organisations and individuals using dashboards? What kinds of indicators are used and for what purpose? What is the temporality or ‘liveliness’ of these indicators? What is the relationship between indicators and other signifiers on the dashboard? How are dashboards incorporated into and transforming decision-making processes? Are dashboards evidence of a general transformation in the temporality of judgment or decision-making? How do individuals cope with the multiplicity and inconclusiveness of dashboard indicators?