July 25, 2022
Ryan Buick
Ryan Buick

The Importance of Building a Data Literacy Framework

Ideally, every decision made by a member of your organization should be informed. Barriers that prohibit data access should not exist. A business that operates like this in today's environment would be unstoppable. But how can the data team get the business teams to take ownership of how they work with data without spending all day leading impromptu training sessions?

The answer is to develop a data literacy framework within which your company can function as a seamless team, each member receiving what they need to excel at their jobs.

Data is the critical ingredient driving today's top-performing businesses. Companies must be willing to retool and refine processes if they have to ensure the data they spend so much time and money collecting and curating is getting used by the people who need it.

This guide will help you understand what you need to do to move beyond a company that sees data activities as necessary to one that views data as the central focal point of success for the organization.

What Is Data Literacy?

Similar to how literacy gauges your ability to read, comprehend, and use written words, data literacy requires the same comfort level but for the use of data. When an organization is at the point where the stakeholders collectively ask, "What is data literacy?" it usually comes at a time when teams begin to feel the pinch of not having a clear definition.

The data flow within an organization can often go unnoticed as it slows to a trickle. It tends to stagnate in the data department without clearly defined channels to flow through. Data literacy is a state an organization attains when its team members at all levels value the ability to analyze and act on data to further business success.

So data literacy starts with the individual, but it must be powered from the top of the organization to take hold and make a difference. Without the entire organization's support, any data literacy campaign will likely fail.

But data literacy is not hard to sell; you're not asking anyone to become a data scientist in their spare time. Instead, as a data pro, your role in the transition to a data-driven culture is to share your expertise and help train staff to use data to improve their job performance no matter what job they do.

You're there to help business team members understand what they do better by understanding the data you provide. You also want to teach them to be self-sufficient and not dependent on the data department for every data need. Self-sufficiency in data means non-data staff members can identify the correct information and use it without having to constantly tap on your shoulder asking for help.

By helping to initiate a top-down, organization wide data movement, you can make your job easier by helping to identify the data competencies individual team members need to acquire. So the details of data literacy often look different depending on the role of the individual employee developing the skills. You need to determine how best to help all staff members:

  • Understand what data they need
  • Find the data
  • Read, interpret, and evaluate the data
  • Manage the data
  • Use the data to create

Everyone in the organization can benefit from creating a data literacy framework. Your company will attract more business talent when it promotes a culture that actively seeks out ways to use data to help individual team members relieve stress and do their jobs better.

Why Your Business Should Implement a Data Literacy Program

To be clear, installing a comprehensive data literacy program isn't easy. Still, you can help your company move in the direction management knows it needs to go but doesn't have a firm enough grasp on the problems to solve or even articulate them.

Here are some reasons companies cite for infusing data literacy into their organizations. Share these motivations with decision-makers and team members at all levels to help get conversations started about becoming a data-driven company.

Business Teams Make More Accurate, Informed Decisions

Trusting your gut regarding business decisions was acceptable before data became readily available. Sometimes experience and a "hunch" might have worked, but no longer. Now, not looking at the data amounts to negligence. With the prominence of data literacy increasing, the excuses for not making it a central part of every aspect of a business are wearing thin.

Appropriate use of data helps businesses make good decisions, which means more success. When business teams attain data literacy, they can independently use the data to answer questions accurately and make the best choices for the company.

Individual Data Literacy Skills Create Efficient Workflows

One of the great things about promoting the development of data literacy skills across an organization is that it seems to make the whole company function better. When business team members become data proficient and self-sufficient, the data team members have more time to develop new strategies for capturing and using data.

As everyone gains new skills with data literacy practices, the organization starts getting the intended benefits of freely flowing data. Now the business can realize the power of data and how it can leverage its seamless integration into the fabric of the company.

Additionally, through tools like interactive dashboards that help non-data professionals create graphical representations, analyze them, interpret their meaning and make data-driven decisions, the business starts to function more as a cohesive whole.

Freely shared data creates an environment in which each team supports the others' functions — no more time wasted just attempting to delineate the problems. Now the business team can use the data for its intended purpose, and the data team can work on ways to improve their ability to access and use the data crucial to their business.

Data Literacy Education Develops Critical-Thinking Employees

Most professional employees have a degree of statistical literacy they learned in school. But unless they majored in statistics (unlikely), their understanding of data might be limited to one or two courses they took years ago.

Like the other forms of literacy we've all had to develop, data literacy helps create a more precise understanding of business operations and increased strategic thinking abilities. When an organization focuses on the value of data, thinking starts to improve.

Most organizations that embrace data literacy programs soon see a transformation as teams divided by function are no longer divided by purpose.

This new infusion of flowing data is created by unfettering it from the data department and empowering all team members with the access and understanding they need to take full advantage of its potential as a means to outperform the competition.

Literacy Training Provides Professional Growth Opportunities

Everyone knows data takes top priority in today’s successful businesses. As companies build data-driven programs, the individual skills that employees gain will help them in the future.

The development world moves so quickly that non-data professionals may not have time to devote to a data study program independently without employer support. And without input from the data team, they may have trouble identifying the exact skills they need to acquire to help them now and in the future.

As the company selects platforms and applications to use, it shares the rationale with employees in all areas to allow them to make informed decisions about their learning. In addition, empowering employees by helping them grasp the value and purpose of data will open up new opportunities as they discover how their role and skill set apply to a data-driven culture.

How To Develop a Data Literacy Framework

It's clear why your company needs a robust data literacy framework in place. Now the question is how to go about instituting it. You and your data team members will need to go out and help management recruit willing evangelists to spread the word about data to the whole company. Here are some steps to help you get started.

1. Start by Generating a Need for Building Data Literacy

Attaining universal literacy across an organization doesn't happen overnight or without a lot of effort. But having management on board helps increase the stakes for employees unsure about how data literacy applies to their job.

To the extent that the data team can help set realistic expectations and management can cast a vision in such a way that everyone sees that data is a central company tenet, a data literacy program can serve to energize a floundering company. In addition, tapping into the benefits of having a data-centered organization can create excitement as everyone sees an opportunity to grow professionally and use their skills to benefit their company's growth.

2. Establish a Baseline for Current Employee Knowledge

You'll find that the people you work with have varied skills frameworks they work with. So, while data literacy may be a companywide objective, it comes down to the individual team member's skills. And the necessary skills of each employee differ depending on their role within the organization.

The data team will need to assess each business team member's current level of data literacy and determine how to improve comprehension and utilization. Targeting areas related to the employee's job can help remove individual barriers or resistance to the learning process.

3. Fill in the Gaps by Teaching Significant Data Concepts

Part of the new role data team members assume centers around teaching others the value of data and how to use it in their jobs. This activity can be empowering for both the teachers and students.

As a teacher, you gain the confidence that comes with a broad range of knowledge about your company. You have to learn the essential functions of each business area to help employees understand how data literacy applies to what they do.

For the students, this is an opportunity to learn new concepts that can help them do their jobs better and skills and information that can potentially help them grow professionally.

4. Use Common Language Across the Board

Applying data science concepts to an everyday context is not always easy. But developing the ability to explain some weightier topics in clear everyday language will make you an invaluable resource.

Removing technical jargon is not "dumbing down" the material. Unnecessarily technical terminology and other heavy lifting required on the back end are a big turn-off for employees who are not data-oriented. Instead, learn to use ordinary language to describe technical concepts.

5. Move On To Managing Data After Teaching Concepts

As data literacy begins to take hold, you'll probably notice a gradual shift in some job responsibilities. Unfortunately, by opening the door to data access, you also create potential vulnerabilities in your data's integrity and security.

An essential part of achieving data literacy is not stopping once everyone is comfortable working with data. Instead, continual exposure to modeled industry wide best practices and company policies about data management should become part of the everyday routine.

6. Apply Data Knowledge To Multiple Contexts

Data literacy helps team members apply data to solving business problems no matter the subject matter. For example, thinking about solutions to business problems at this stage will take on a new look as analysts find creative new ways to apply their new skills.

Networks of literacy naturally form, which in this case helps build more camaraderie between data and non-data team members as they collaborate on new ways to leverage data to tackle challenging business issues and best the competition.

7. Begin Creating Data Sets

The payoff for establishing data literacy is about to happen. Usually, once an organization collectively accepts data literacy as a worthwhile goal, the only hindrance to learning is insufficient technical skills.

Fortunately, with today's advanced applications and delivery systems, business staff can overcome many technical barriers with tools to help them manage, work with, and visualize data.

Now That You've Built a Conceptual Framework, Here's What's Next

Hopefully, you've started by achieving buy-in from your company's leadership. But it will likely fall on your department to help get through the transitional phase. Remember, it can be tricky, but you're working toward a better tomorrow where your colleagues understand data and know how to use it.

Embrace your new role as a guide for the people you work with to help them explore the opportunities even a basic mastery of data can create for them.

An excellent place to get them started with data literacy training is the Data Literacy Project website, where you'll find more resources.With the right processes and culture in place, tools like Canvas can supercharge your tooling to transform your company into a data-driven one. By allowing any employee with spreadsheet skills to answer questions involving live data, Canvas helps your company turn customer data directly into decisions that grow your business. Take a peek at how easily accessible your data could be with a free Canvas demo.

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