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Data Literacy

Data Literacy 2.0 as an Organizational Capability

By Becky Lyons

My background is in organizational change management — the human side of change. I have a passion for helping people do their work better and faster.

Optimizing the human side of change was important when I worked in the healthcare industry, where doing work better and faster often significantly impacted patients and their families. It’s important in what I do as a First San Francisco Partners consultant, as well. Today, I work across multiple industries. One thing that remains a constant is the importance of supporting people who do the organization’s work so they can do their work better and faster.

An area I’ve been focusing on recently is data literacy. As an individual competency, it helps people better understand and work with data. As an organizational capability, it can truly drive efficiency and effectiveness as it develops a shared understanding and collective skill-set across the organization.

What is Data Literacy?

If you search online for a definition of data literacy, you’ll discover many — including these:

  • Data literacy is the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, with an understanding of the data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied, and the ability to describe the use case application and resulting business value or outcome. (Gartner)
  • Data literacy is the ability of a company’s employees to understand and work with data to the appropriate degree. (MIT)
  • Data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyze and communicate with data. It’s a skill that empowers all levels of workers to ask the right questions of data and machines, build knowledge, make decisions and communicate meaning to others. (Qlik)
  • Data literacy is the critical ability to derive meaningful insights from data and apply them in a way that benefits your organization. (Deloitte)

Though each organization and individual may have different definitions of data literacy, I would guess there’s a common thread — something along the lines of “the ability of individuals to use and communicate with data.”

As an individual competency, data literacy helps people better understand and work with data. As an organizational capability, it can truly drive efficiency and effectiveness as it develops a common understanding and collective skillset across the organization.

Why It’s Time for Data Literacy 2.0

In our fast-paced, super-connected world, where much of our work is done collaboratively, the ability to communicate is critical. And time is of the essence. It’s not enough for individuals to be able to use and communicate with data. To truly derive a benefit from data literacy — and take things to the 2.0 level — it needs to be viewed as a team (and organizational) capability. Because when teams come to the table with a consistent understanding of data, they can spend more time using data to make decisions. With suitable systems and structures in place to support access to and use of high-quality data, data-driven decisions are more meaningful and impactful.

“Data Literacy 2.0,” then, is viewing data literacy as an organizational capability that enables individuals to make data-driven decisions.

To bring Data Literacy 2.0 into your organization, focus on these three areas:

  • Data learningOffer learning opportunities so people can develop data competencies.
  • Data accessProvide ready access to high-quality, governed data.
  • Data solutions – Implement solutions that enable data governance, management, access and analysis.

Data-Focused Competencies with a Human Touch

In my experience, a lot of data literacy practice and research focuses primarily (if not solely) on developing the knowledge and skills needed to make decisions with data. This is absolutely critical. People are the ones making decisions, so they need the competencies to do so.

However, I’m not talking about developing knowledge and skills for the sake of acquiring knowledge and skills. Data Literacy 2.0 is about growing knowledge and skills in a specific context — and using data to make decisions. Because what good are competencies if you don’t have the data or tools to use them?

For Data Literacy 2.0 to thrive in your organization, make sure your efforts are focused on the right competencies that enable and empower everyone to create, locate, understand, use and explain high-quality, governed data. Access to accurate, consistent and timely data will be critical, as I mentioned, and governance’s role is to support and enforce data structure and standards.

Having the right technology and tools that enable sound governance and use of data will be important as well, so your data-literate organization has ready access to the data it needs.

While Data Literacy 2.0 might sound like a lofty goal, it’s within your reach. Focus on meaningful competencies and an understanding of the human side of change and you will get there.