Data Literacy: The Basis of a Data Driven Organization

Kim Jackson, Vice President, Strategy, Products and Data Governance, Providence St. Joseph Health
Kim Jackson, Vice President, Strategy, Products and Data Governance, Providence St. Joseph Health

Kim Jackson, Vice President, Strategy, Products and Data Governance, Providence St. Joseph Health

Many organizations are struggling to move from an organization drowning in data to a data driven organization. Fundamental in the ability to achieve this shift in maturity is understanding how to investin your people and support the shift in culture required to take this leap. Data Literacy can be at the heart of this barrier.

When companies embark to alter their strategic direction, it is a given that clear communication and a single message must be core to drive this change. The same holds true with data. It is taken for granted that employees understand the data they are looking at, and what action is required of them. Creating this singular message and driving this understanding is the objective of a data literacy program.

A data literacy program should be a Center of Excellence that includes training, knowledge management, and is driven by leadership buy-in and accountability. Consistent and comprehensive training is key to ensure staff maintain competency in analytics. Knowledge Management includes practices, artifacts and tools that are a resource for employees. Leadership buy-in that supports adoption and accountability is vital to sustained organizational data literacy. Making data literacy a part of an overarching analytical framework will elevate an enterprise’s analytical value proposition.

Traditional training teams and materials educate employees on how to use tools (point and click training) and might teach how to read a dashboard. This leaves a large gap. When business units need to complete analysis beyond provided solutions, they are often left to fend for themselves or find that go-to-person who knows all about the data. If unable to find this person, they often complete analysis that misrepresents data resulting in faulty business decisions. Data literacy programs emphases content-based education. Focus is placed on the following areas: Data domain (how data is organized and how to combine data), data quality (how good is the data and how to determine fitness for use), workflow (key business practices that effect how and when to use data), meta-data (data elements, measures and their technical definitions that support the organization) and most importantly analytical story telling (the ability not only complete an analytical study but how to share it in a clear and compelling way).

  Making data literacy a part of an overarching analytical framework will elevate an enterprise’s analytical value proposition​  

Analytical story telling can be difficult to teach as it requires a student to cultivate their analytical skills, improve their public speaking and requires them to hone their message. This is the key to a Data Literacy Center of Excellence. Learning through current projects (on the job) and mentor supported self-guided research they apply their knowledge through documenting and presenting their finds in education sessions within the organization. Combining subject area learning and analytical story telling education, a company can grow their program and create a knowledge management resource and library for the entire organizational audience. The Data Literacy Center of Excellence should create an education and training program with key business analyst staff acting as training instructors that create content and provide education sessions for business users. It is key that these sessions provide content-based learning vs how to use an application. Presentations include full documentation in summary and detail form to ensure the ability to use as reference materials in the future.

This program will benefit a company by increased visibility and adoption of analytical tools and solutions, improving ROI of an analytics value proposition. It expands knowledge base documentation for future use and reduces time analysts spend answering frequency asked questions. This knowledge base should be posted on an online catalog, used as a resource for the IT Service desk, shared with knowledge workers when questions

arise and reviewed as part of employee onboarding. Trust in data also increases as clear documentation reduces conflict when complicated questions arise, and constant answers are provided.

Analytical staff are key resources because they are the guardians of key business knowledge. Replacing them can be costly to an organization as their expertise is often not documented. Hiring replacement personnel that is able to backward engineer and learn key business data expertise takes time. A data literacy program will increase analytical knowledge workers engagement, improve retention and creates documentation reducing risk when an employee leaves. Analysts will gain exposure to the organization, this creates engagement with community and builds stakeholder relationships. They expand their skill sets by working on a variety of projects and becoming subject manner experts in new areas. Gained confidence from increased leadership skills, presentation, data literary, and story telling ability bolsters team members, elevates analytics programs and prepares employees for the next step in their career.

Leadership buy-in and accountably are key for program success. Documentation and learning can often be short changed without leadership support. If staff are not held accountable, then knowledge management artifacts can become outdated. This program makes learning, documentation and sharing part of an employee’s day to day job role. In fact, by ensuring that participation is part of an employee’s job description and annual review process the program will remain a priority. On-going and consistent sessions ensure that artifacts are relevant and training takes place. By creating a deadline and a presentation requirement, these activities are not short changed and become a core deliverable. The Learning Pyramid that was developed in the 1960s by the NTL Institute in Bethel, Maine showed that you only retain 5 percent of what you learned from lecture but 90 percent when you teach someone else or use immediately. Ensuring that employees apply their learning through teaching ensures that leadership’s investment in a data literacy program is valuable, effective and not wasted.

Data literacy programs have the ability to change the culture of an organization from one where information is horded to one where data knowledge is shared, available to all and understood. This shift in culture can take place with a strong data literacy program.

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