How to Drive Data Literacy with 4 Simple Steps

By John Wills

Published on July 14, 2022

Two hands typing on an opened laptop

The foundation of a data culture is built from within. In other words, it’s the data literacy of everyone at the organization that will determine the strength of your data culture.

But what is data literacy?

According to Gartner, data literacy is:

“… the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied, and the ability to describe the use case, application, and resulting value.”

Naturally, there are different levels of data literacy, and although the highest levels of data literacy are not required by everyone at your organization, raising those levels can fuel:

  • Data dexterity, which Gartner defines as the ability and desire to use existing and emerging technology to drive better business outcomes

  • Data democratization, which makes digital information accessible to more non-technical users of information systems — without requiring IT involvement

  • Greater collaboration when different stakeholders (analysts, engineers, marketers) use a common vernacular to discuss data

  • Self-service analytics, because understanding data is as important as having quick access to it

These benefits prove the vital role data literacy plays in building a data culture: it empowers people to find the data they need and trust to make smart decisions.

How to Build a Data Literacy Program

The building blocks of a sophisticated data literacy program are materials (to teach data literacy) and metrics (to measure success).

  • Learning materials for multiple personas should be provided through a combination of self-service and recurring classroom training and supported by mentors and continuing education.

  • Metrics should be defined and measured periodically to understand progress within each persona population. It is, in essence, a continuous corporate training and change management program that can be required for specific job functions. Gartner also provides additional information on metrics in its client report, How to Measure the Value of Data Literacy.

How to Drive Data Literacy on a Budget

But what if you don’t yet have full management buy-in — and by that we mean the desire to buy a learning program as robust as mentioned above? You can still drive data literacy at your organization in the following ways:

1. Include data literacy training materials in your self-service catalog onboarding articles.

It sounds obvious, but the best place to include information about data literacy is where people access the data — and link the information directly from your catalog homepage.

Videos are an engaging way for people to learn — if you lack the budget to make your own, there are many within the public domain, including a 16-episode data literacy 101 series from Arizona State University.

You can supplement general data literacy videos with articles featuring examples specific to your organization. Examples include “Top 10 Data Literacy Benefits” and “Data Literacy Terms and Metrics.” Applying these concepts directly to your organization — and linking them to terms, metrics, reports, and data assets in your catalog — can inject life in your data literacy training.

In addition, you can make training videos a prerequisite for each of your catalog training sessions — consider incentives and rewards for those who can prove their progress!

2. Include data literacy questions in recurring surveys of your active catalog community.

You should try to measure data literacy (or at least the perception of being literate) even if you have to resort to using third-party materials and don’t have a firm, fixed requirement that everyone pass training. Include a few data literacy questions in your recurring catalog user survey. (You do have a user survey, right?) Simply ask the participant to self-rate their literacy on several levels/categories. Then aggregate the results by role and organization to see how they are trending.

3. Hold an annual Data Literacy Awareness Month.

With a little management support and a bit of friendly competition, you can see which groups within your organization have the most data literacy training participants, and who scores highest on a quiz you can create in an app like Google forms. The right incentive — or just simple pride — will have teams sending their people through the catalog to complete the training.

4. Include a data literacy campaign tagline in email signatures and presentation title slides.

Email signatures and presentation title slides are an easy place to continually drive training awareness. Use something like “Data or datum? Get data literate!”

By following these simple steps, you can increase the data literacy at your organization — and make it less of a “need to have” than a “fun to have.”

Curious to learn how leaders improve data literacy in their organizations today? Learn how Australian company Cbus uses self-service analytics to improve data literacy across the business.

  • How to Build a Data Literacy Program
  • How to Drive Data Literacy on a Budget
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