A key attribute of the coronavirus pandemic has been the role of data in developing both situational awareness and infection containment strategies. Analytic modelling has come to the fore as countries have tried to predict what actions to take to ‘flatten the curve’. However, we have also seen signs that many people do not understand the science or trust the data available to help them make decisions. Are there things that can be done to change this, and help more people to understand about data?

Qlik defines data literacy as “Data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyze and communicate with data. It’s a skill that empowers all levels of workers to ask the right questions of data and machines, build knowledge, make decisions, and communicate meaning to others.”

I caught up with James Fisher of data and analytics firm Qlik to talk about Qlik’s work to increase data literacy.

What is the scope of data literacy? Are there industries or geographical areas that are further ahead?

Generally speaking, right round the globe, and across industries, data literacy is much lower than we would expect or hope to see at both organisational and individual level. However, there are some outliers. Singapore is an example of best practice and is actually incredibly advanced in data literacy terms, certainly compared to other parts of the of the world. I think there are a number of reasons for that. First, it’s a very knowledge worker-based economy, which lends itself to data literacy. Second, the government has been very advanced in terms of open data initiatives and the general education around data literacy. 

Does data literacy translate into measurable improvements and changes?

Yes, absolutely. The first set of research we did on this suggested that data literacy projects resulted in something like a three to five per cent increase in enterprise values. That might equate to maybe $500 million worth of enterprise value with higher percentile levels of data literacy in the organization. We’ve also done some more recent research to look at the impact of data literacy levels on individuals, and we’ve found that it has a huge impact on their ability to do their jobs. (1)

How does this data literacy work translate into thought leadership? Have you seen better conversations with customers as a result?

There are two main elements to the work. First, there’s the impact of all the education and services that we deliver around data literacy under the Qlik brand. That is built around the investment we’ve made in data literacy workshops and education, much of which is free. Most of it is also product-agnostic, which is unusual; most data literacy work is product training by another name. We’ve had a lot of customers come to us through those workshops. On the back of that, we’ve actually launched a number of new service offerings under the banner of ‘data literacy as a service’, including new data literacy consultancy services. Second, we have initiated and launched the Data Literacy Project – a global community that has been created to change and elevate the conversation  about data and data literacy. Working with a number of partners, the Data Literacy Project provides information, guidance and free resources to help people and organizations feel more confident with understanding and working with data.  

So both of these developments have very much been about improving conversations. But in many ways, we’re pushing at an open door. This is a conversation that is relevant and one that people want to have. Our work on data literacy is giving us the opportunity to engage with our customers and with prospects, and really understand the challenges that they are seeing, and how to help them solve problems.  

We are seeing a polarisation between people who trust data and people who dont just at the moment. To what extent do you think data literacy can help with this?

I think this is really interesting. For example, there is a lot of data available on Covid-19. However, there are also some real challenges, because this data is from lots of different sources. How do we know which ones to trust? Even experts struggle to assess data without knowing how frequently the data is updated, the methodology behind its collections or the governance that is applied to it.  Individuals have very different levels of understanding of that—and many just don’t know what questions to ask. What’s more, there are some really poor visualisations being used to present this data and that makes it harder for people with lower levels of data literacy to understand. We’re actually going to publish some short explainer videos later this week about this. They’re designed to help people understand a bit more and know what questions to ask. That seems to be the crucial issue for most people: to have the confidence to know when to challenge and how. For example, we know when a weather forecast ‘seems wrong’, and we know what questions to ask about it. We need to know how to do the same with other forms of data, including Covid-19 predictions and business data as a whole.

For many organisations, unlocking the full potential of business value from analytics depends on the actions users are prepared to take based on data driven decisions. Trust in data, and their own judgement about the data, is key. We believe data literacy initiatives such as this one by Qlik play an important role towards better informed decisions. Data literacy is arguably the ‘north star’ for organisations and communities wishing to improve data-driven decision and action capability. 

(1) Qlik’s Data Literacy Report-  How to Drive Data Literacy With the Enterprise – is available for registration-free download here. 

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