The human impact of data literacy
What if I told you only 32% of business executives said that they’re able to create measurable value from data, and just 27% said their data and analytics projects produce actionable insights? Let me put it another way: How excited would you be if I said I made you some chocolate chip cookies, but I only put in 32% of the required sugar and 27% of the required flour?
I sure hope you wouldn’t eat those cookies. The cookies would be underprepared and not correctly baked with all the necessary ingredients for tasty success. To make an analogy, there are companies creating data and analytics (think: making cookies) without the necessary cultural and organizational ingredients to derive the greatest value from their creations.
To help others better understand how data literacy – properly and programmatically implemented – can encourage organizations to use these needed ingredients, I recently co-presented a webinar with Martha Bennett, VP and Principal Analyst, from Forrester, and Rishi Muchhala, Manager of Enterprise Intelligence, from Nemours Children’s Health System. The webinar had thousands of attendees, and we received many good questions. I’ve formulated them and provided detailed answers below.
Question topic 1: What about the data culture of an organization?
This was a recurring theme in each of the questions that were asked and for good reason. The number one obstacle to data literacy success has nothing to do with data, technology or the software you deploy; it has everything to do with your culture and the people in your organization. Now, how many of you reading this think changing a culture is easy? If so, trust me – it’s not.
Changing a culture is definitely not easy. It involves changing the DNA of an organization, so that people embrace – not just accept – data. This means data fluency, data literacy, analytical competence and data mentoring must be encouraged and reinforced at multiple touchpoints throughout the organization. Part of the solution is convincing people at all levels that data is empowering.
Question topic 2: What are key areas to focus on in a data literacy program?
This question is very large in scope, and you could get lost trying to address all facets of a data literacy program. Below are a few key areas a data literacy program should concentrate on.
- Leadership – For any data literacy program to succeed, it must have leadership buy-in. The leaders of any organization set the tone and agenda for cultural change, marking how to measure it, conveying its progress and extolling its virtues.
- Tailored learning – Remember that each individual is at his or her own data literacy stage, and we cannot expect a program to succeed if we try to fit everyone into the same puzzle space. One size does not fit all – people learn at different speeds in different ways, and you should provide for differing learning experiences that nurture data literacy growth across that spectrum.
- Curiosity, creativity and critical thinking – Work hard to foster the '3 Cs of Data Literacy', which form the foundational pillars of nearly all data literacy programs. People should have a strong desire to know and understand, as well as engage in divergent and novel thinking. This is more likely to occur when the tenets of such thinking are embedded in every part of a data literacy program.
Mind you: I am not recommending that everyone go back to school, study statistics and so forth. But, I am saying we need a culture that encourages the questioning and challenging of assumptions.
Question topic 3: Who should lead the data literacy effort in the company?
This is another great question. I have been approached by people who wonder if a grassroots movement among the employee base is the key to data literacy success. I have been approached by people who wonder if it is the executive team that leads the charge. The short answer is both.
In order for your data literacy program to succeed, you must have leadership and executive buy-in. By having buy-in from the executive team, you ensure the workforce understands the company is behind the data literacy initiative. Then, create excitement through grassroots work and data literacy evangelists. These two techniques help organizations drive a holistic and inclusive approach to data literacy.
The human impact of data literacy cannot be overemphasized. A workforce and society empowered by data leads to smarter, better-informed decision making, which makes us less prone to errors, groupthink and orthodoxy. This means we will be more open to challenging others’ practices that are not supported by evidence and also more accepting of data-based feedback that challenges our own approaches. In short, as a society, increased data literacy can only help us grow, as professionals and people, enriching and deepening our perspectives.
Author: Jordan Morrow