Data Literacy – What it is and Why it’s so Important


Data LiteracyWhat good is data if you can't use it? If you can't find it? If you can't make sense of it? What good is data if you are intimidated trying to interpret it?

People are human. We avoid things that make us uncomfortable. Well maybe that's not you. Kudos.

But what good is data if it works for you, but not your colleague on the floor above or the practitioner in the field? And why such a disparity between those who feel at home with data and those that don't?

Rarely do I meet someone who disagrees that data is a crucial key to running our businesses, our non-profits, or our personal finances better. After all, what is data other than a digital representation of actual human activity?

Data represents us. It's a window into what we collectively do on a daily basis, not to mention the digital systems we interact with to make our actions come to fruition.

For example, I want to buy a TV. I search, I click, I buy, I order...across multiple devices...a flurry of systems fulfill my order, people move the product, trucks carry it to my house. A delivery person scans the box. 3 days go by....oops, I measured wrong, doesn't fit. I send it back, downsize...trigger a and automated processes facilitate my swap and we repeat the delivery all over again. All because I "a person" decided I wanted a TV. And all the data is merely representing what really happened along the way, sometimes good sometimes not so good. And when that happens 1000x an hour, data is our only hope of making sense of it all.

TVs may sound trivial in the big scheme of things, but we all do appreciate a return process that goes smoothly without a headache. Smart use of data is to be credited for timely updates, proper billing, and end-to-end visibility of "where's my tv?". Data helps improve the customer experience in a digital world.

Being a father of three, I have an immense respect for the doctors and nurses and surgeons who take care of our little ones. I naturally feel uncomfortable in hospitals and could never do what they do. And in today's world, even the most qualified practitioner is daunted with the digital complexity of everything. Hospitals are bigger than ever and something as basic as "ensuring a good experience for the child" is an elusive goal to define, monitor and improve...without the use of data.

But back to my original question: What good is patient data if the doctor can't easily access the history prior to meeting with my child? What good is all the digital record keeping for nurses if they are intimidated using the data to improve daily patient experience? What good is a trove of testing outcomes if the insights can't be interpreted by the medical team and applied to my child or your child to lower re-admission rates? None of us want to stay longer or bring our kids back to the hospital...unless we have to. Data is our friend and help in this cause.

Formally data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyze and argue with data. The digital world is pushing us all to "speak data" as a common language because it crosses all boundaries. Young, old, near, far, personal, public, corporate and non-profit. The movement globally is an awareness we need this critical skill to improve the world we live in.

Gartner recently stated that "by 2020, 80% of organizations will initiate deliberate competency development in the field of data literacy, acknowledging their extreme deficiency.”

Informally, for you and I, I believe data literacy is the emotional key that allows us to embrace data as our friend, not foe. And this is when positive change begins.

Are you ready to learn this new language?

Check out the story here published by the Data Literacy Project of how Nemours Children's Health is using data to get kids home faster with better care. It's not so much about needing more data. But rather, helping the team become data literate.

Join the global #BeDataBrilliant conversation here. And I challenge you to take their personal assessment.

"Many of us didn’t know what data was available, let alone how to read, analyze or even interpret it. So, we created an educational series called the Data Swagger Sessions.  These bite-sized tutorials aimed to inspire everyone. "


About the Author

Kyle Roth

Kyle leads our client relationships for Data Analytics practice based in the Dublin, Ohio (US) Offices.  Previously he was an analytics practitioner within the Insurance sector leading teams to deliver trusted data, business insights and advanced analytics.  Most recently he worked for Qlik supporting clients at many Fortune 100 companies to optimize their decision culture, with a focus on data literacy and location analytics. Since joining Lightwell, Kyle enjoys helping clients take a holistic approach and prove value fast with new ideas.  His favorite coaching line is “Even Monkeys Fall out of Trees” and his golf game has survived because of those words!  When not playing golf, he can be found coaching his boys basketball team or watching his daughter play volleyball. 

Connect with Kyle on LinkedIn, where he also shared this post.