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Why (and How) You Should Improve Data Literacy in Your Organization Today

It’s one thing to understand that data is important, but for many organizations the real trick is bridging the gap between having data and using it. If you’ve spent much time working with data, you’ve probably heard (and said) the phrase “data literacy.” For many people, data literacy simply means “I have access to some reports,” or, “I know my way around a spreadsheet.” In some cases, data literacy is reserved only for those who work directly with reporting and big data daily. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. Data literacy is for – and can benefit – everyone in your organization.

How To Promote Data Literacy

Real data literacy isn’t just about having knowing what data is – or even having access to data. It’s about using that data to make informed and meaningful decisions for the betterment of the organization. It’s a mixture of having the right information and knowing how to interpret it. After all, data is little more than numbers and graphs if it doesn’t drive your organization toward success. Here’s how you can help every member of your team and organization become truly data literate:

Step One: Know Why Data Literacy is Important (For Everyone)
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The first step is understanding (and communicating) why data is important. Sure, everyone knows that you need certain numbers to make specific decisions, but how does that data influence day-to-day activities? By helping employees understand how data not only affects the big picture but also the here and now, you empower them to use that information to become better at their jobs, meet their objectives, and contribute to the organization’s performance metrics in a tangible way.

Data literacy is closely connected with your organization’s goals, too. If you (and everyone else on your team) know how to use data, you can more easily bridge the gap between your role in the company and your contribution to its KPIs (key performance indicators). Additionally, understanding data in a real way can help you find more relevant performance metrics, which in turn makes it easier to create objectives that contribute to the company’s bottom line.

Improve Data Literacy by Starting Small
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If you’re ready start a data literacy initiative, remember this: it won’t happen overnight. In fact, you should start small. If you try to overextend and educate the entire organization at once, you’re likely to get frustrated and lose momentum. Instead, focus on one team to start. Hone their data skills until they’re fully bought-in and equipped to critically apply data to their day-to-day responsibilities. Then, as you expand your education efforts to the rest of the organization, you can use what you learned from your pilot group to enhance the efficacy of your training.

This patience principle applies on the individual level as well. Don’t expect employees to become data wizards in a day – or even a week. Give them time, careful training, and the freedom to learn how data can improve their workflow. Try to individualize the training as much as possible, as only some data-related concepts will be useful for them to know.  During this phase, your goal is to not only improve their own ability to use data, but to get buy-in so they can promote what they learn among their peers, to their manager, and to stakeholders.

Be Supportive and Encourage Creativity
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To some, “data” is synonymous with “boring.” When you approach someone with the goal of educating them, don’t be boring! Instead, focus on helping them develop a passion for data; find creative ways to introduce data usage into daily work, and provide the support they need to explore data at their own pace. Putting data into context will help to connect the potentially mundane metrics with the real-life responsibilities and actions within your business. This heightened relevance can help to engage your team with their data. Remember, nothing makes data less interesting that a lecture-based approach, so focus on providing engaging, hands-on ways for “data newbies” to see how clean, thoughtful reporting affects them.

Read next: Get Inspired: 19 Inspiring Data Viz Designs

Focus on Data Storytelling
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Data tells a story. This is a simple concept for data enthusiasts to grasp. After all, it’s one of the many reasons we love data, right? One of the ways you can engage new data users is by helping them understand the narrative aspect of reporting through data visualization. Data visualization is a huge part of data literacy, and it’s one of the primary ways data-savvy team members can use information to create a narrative. This narrative, in turn, can help them make mindful decisions about their roles, their team’s objectives, and the organization as a whole.

Getting Practical: Tips & Tricks for Data Literacy Training
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At the end of the day, data literacy on an organization-wide scale requires a training plan. Here are a few practical ways you can introduce data literacy to your organization and help every employee sharpen their data skills:

  • Give everyone access to data. No, you don’t need to give each person access to everything – but you do need to provide up-to-date, easy-to-digest reporting as it applies to their individual roles. By giving each team access to dashboards that relate to their specific objectives, you make it easier for them to analyze that data on a day-to-day basis. Eventually, it will become second nature.
  • Empower people to use data. If someone has an idea based on data they found in a report, listen. This not only positions you to discover ideas that you (or your boss) might not have thought of before, but it rewards individuals for using data critically and creatively.
  • Offer training Data literacy comes with a learning curve. No matter how long you’ve been in the business of data, you’re bound to have questions. If an employee is flexing their data muscles for the first time, training resources are even more important. These can take the form of group training sessions, one-on-one trainings, or by simply having someone on the team who is more experienced and can confidently answer questions.
  • Lead by example. It goes without saying, but one of the best ways to encourage data literacy is to be data literate. Be your initiative’s biggest advocate and share its success metrics. When others see you using data effectively, you’ll inspire them to do the same. If your own data literacy helps you make good, data-driven decisions, others will follow.
The Endgame: Data-Driven Problem Solving
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Data helps people solve problems. If you’re training a team that’s dealing with a known challenge, encourage them to approach it from a data-driven perspective. No one understands their jobs like they do, so you might be surprised at how quickly people begin to find solutions once they’re armed with the right tools and training to overcome roadblocks with data. After all, the goal of data literacy is using data to find creative, data-driven solutions.