20th February 2020

Data literacy: what it is and why it should matter to your organisation


Gartner says that data literacy will be an explicit and necessary driver of business value by 2023*. Ian Sinclair, Managing Consultant at Civica, outlines what's meant by data literacy, the benefits it delivers, and how organisations can increase their data literacy maturity.


The term 'data literacy' has come to the fore over the past few years — but why, and what does it actually mean? It stems from the fact that people are now thinking and talking about data as a language. And as with any other language, organisations need their employees to be literate in data — able to read, understand and work with it.

Plenty of organisations have data teams full of skilled analysts and statisticians doing great work. But that isn't enough to make the organisation as a whole data literate. Given that data literacy is essential to the development of a data-driven culture and the creation of business value from data assets, it's vital to address the issue. The risks of not doing so can include:

·   Issues with data quality

·   Decisions being made based on poor or misinterpreted data

·   Inefficient working due to lack of effective data sharing

·   Low ROI on analytics tools

So what steps can an organisation take to raise data literacy across the board?

Assess your organisation's data literacy maturity

The first step is to understand where your organisation is in terms of data literacy maturity — how data literate are most of your people? At Civica we talk in terms of a 'data literacy competency framework' that's aligned with Data Management Association principles:

·   Casual users have a basic ability to judge the quality of data they use regularly

·   Cautious users will have some data management best practice training, but may need support when they come across issues

·   Capable users use data and insight to inform debate and influence decision making. They can deal with issues and risks, and undertake their own analytical activities

·   Confident users instil a culture that values reliable evidence and high data quality. They take responsibility for implementing data management processes around data quality, accessibility and governance

·   Conquering users evangelise the use of data management and analytics, govern data management processes and provide support to other parts of the organisation.

Once you've assessed maturity levels, you need to work out what training to put in place to upskill your general user population. In our experience, organisations tend to want to upskill most of their non-specialist users to 'capable', with a proportion of 'confident' users who can provide data stewardship.

Get buy-in from the SMT

Just like any other change initiative or program, data literacy has to start at the top: you need a data-literate leadership team who will set an example for the rest of the organisation to follow. Imagine too how much more value the Senior Management Team will get from their data dashboards if they have the skills to manipulate and interrogate the data!

The role of the chief data officer (CDO), if you have one, will be fundamental to raising the organisation's level of data literacy — in fact, doing so should be one of their core objectives.

The benefits of data literacy

Raising data literacy helps ensure everyone in the organisation speaks a common data language, which will serve to:

·   Drive consistent treatment of data, improving quality and generating trust, which leads to wider sharing of data

·   Remove terminology barriers between organisational silos

·   Elevate the profile of data skills and promote a culture of data innovation

·   Enable individuals to identify personal data literacy aspirations in an evolving technology landscape

·   Empower business functions to 'converse' with data using self-serve analytics technologies, rather than always relying on the data management team for reporting and insights

·   Underpin the transformation to a data-driven culture and organisation

Ready to step up your data literacy game? Talk to Civica about a data literacy assessment that will set you on track to raise your organisation's maturity in this critical area. Get in touch to learn more.



* Gartner: 10 Ways CDOs Can Succeed in Forging a Data-Driven Organization, 22 May 2019