When I hear the word “dashboard,” the first thing that comes to mind is the illuminating glow of a car’s control panel, telling me how fast I’m going, what song is playing and whether I need to refill my gas tank (usually, the answer is “yes”).
The Getting to Zero Illinois (GTZ-IL) Dashboard is … well, it’s not going to inspire a music recommendation or let me know if I’m out of washer fluid. Instead, it has a greater purpose: to take data about people, present it in a way that’s easy to understand, and inform action needed to better support people living with and disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS.
When we talk about data, we are talking about real people and real lives. Since it launched this summer, the GTZ-IL Dashboard has helped match real-life numbers to some of the hugely important goals that the plan aims to achieve. That helps anyone making an impact on the HIV epidemic see where we’re at and where we need to go to ensure everyone living with and vulnerable to HIV has the resources they need to thrive.
Still, you may not have had a chance to fully explore all the dashboard has to offer, so here are three ways the dashboard can come in handy for you, whether you’re an HIV advocate, a front-line health care provider or are overseeing a housing or prevention program.
The GTZ-IL Dashboard helps Illinoisans understand the more complex picture of the HIV epidemic in our state by letting the user zoom in on factors like race/ethnicity, gender and more. This helps us understand how something like racism can impact the way different communities experience HIV -- and help the health care community respond with greater intentionality. Take Illinois’ rates of people living with HIV who are engaged in care. On the surface, the Dashboard shows us overall, we’re on track to meet our goals. But the Dashboard also helps scrape away the surface and see that, in fact, this is only true for white Illinoisans; care connections are actually declining for Black and Latina/o/e/x Illinoisans. Having information visible, digestible and clear helps us all see the bigger picture of the epidemic.
Sometimes it’s hard to digest the many facts and figures that tell us about the HIV epidemic in Illinois. Those numbers can differ from year to year, for different racial and ethnic communities, genders and sexualities. How do you sort out these varied data points? By going to the Dashboard!
David Kern, Deputy Commissioner of the Syndemic Infectious Disease Bureau at the Chicago Department of Public Health, was able to help an organization update their marketing materials for an event by referring to the Dashboard.
“I received an email announcing an upcoming event. The e-flyer included an incorrect fact about HIV diagnoses among a specific population,” said David. “I knew the information was wrong, so I went to the GTZ-IL Dashboard and searched for data on the new HIV diagnoses among specific populations. The data confirmed new diagnoses are actually going down among all populations. We sent the correct information (screen shots and link to the dashboard) to the event organizer and asked for the flyer be updated with correct data.”
The Dashboard can now help a whole host of people talking about HIV -- including reporters, students and teachers, public health planners, elected officials, and you and me -- have the facts about the epidemic.
With an abundance of data available to review, compare and digest, it can get overwhelming to process it all. Fortunately, the GTZ-IL Dashboard creators anticipated this and offer two solutions to information fatigue. First, they created community-specific breakdowns to help users understand how some communities most impacted by HIV are experiencing the epidemic. Take this important breakdown of young gay Black men in Chicago. In one page, you can view a spectrum of information which paints a clear picture of where this community is in relation to the epidemic -- and, for public health leaders, it conveys the importance of including young gay Black men in Chicago in every and all decision made to advance us toward Zero.
Second, for users who need a little outside help to process the charts, graphs and figures, there are helpful narratives included throughout. An example of this is the Priority Population focus on transgender women of color in Illinois: it helps you understand the journey through the “continuum of care” (a term referring to the journey a person takes from testing to diagnosis to care to viral suppression) for trans women of color in Illinois based on the numbers.
So, if you haven’t yet checked out the Dashboard, now is a great time to steer that way. But before you race off, there’s one more thing I’d like to leave you with. Data is hugely helpful in digesting the factors which contribute to the HIV epidemic, but in many ways, it’s just a start of a conversation vs. the end-all-be-all. Data can help us ask deeper questions to help us rev our engines toward Zero, but it’s up to us to take action, advocate and provide solutions to the issues the data illuminates. Let’s use the dashboard to better understand the data and (yes, I promise this is my last vehicular metaphor) fuel our efforts to get to Zero!