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Understanding Data Literacy

March 7, 2022

The term may not be familiar to some individuals, so let’s start with a quick definition. Data literacy is the ability to parse and organize complex data, interpret and summarize information, develop predictions, or appreciate the ethical implications of algorithms.

Building up data literacy in an organization can also help to make critical decisions about how data will be collected, processed, and deployed. By investing in data literacy across the company, businesses can bring more divergent and creative perspectives to use on identifying efficiencies and opportunities that data can often reveal.

In every industry, companies are amassing more data than ever. Retailers inspect our purchasing history, airlines measure why flights are on time, and just about every service call, email, and interaction is tracked. The benefit for companies is to use this data to figure out how to better solve customer needs, improve their services and operations, and make better decisions about the talent they hire.

But while we have all this data, and it’s becoming more influential than ever, there’s still a big problem at hand: Most of us are not very good at interpreting and making sense of it. Research shows that most companies are struggling to build data literacy. Ninety percent of business leaders cite data literacy as key to company success, but only 25% of workers feel confident in their data skills.

To improve this, companies need to begin developing an internal common language for speaking about data including how it intersects with your business and industry.Incorporating data into all important decision making and asking the right questions is crucial. “What data do we have, or can we get which supports or contradicts this business case?” is the kind of question that should be asked. When presented with data, encourage people to take a deeper look into it to ensure that the sources are reliable, the analysis is correct, and if further evidence is needed amongst many other things.

Overall, data literacy is not a technical skill - It is a professional skill.  Encourage all of your employees (regardless of their title) to develop their data literacy through various engagement sessions that your business can conduct or through their own research from reliable sources. This kind of organization-wide emphasis is the basis for a transformation to a data-first culture.

In today’s society, data literacy has become important, for almost everyone. Companies need more people with the ability to interpret data, to draw insights, and to ask the right questions in the first place. These are skills that anyone can develop, and there are many ways for individuals to upskill themselves and for companies to drive the change. The data itself is clear on this: Data-driven decision-making markedly improvesbusiness performance.