Data Strategy Without Data Literacy? Like Boarding the Titanic!

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Read more about author Tim Connold.

Data literacy is a hot topic with today’s data leaders, and many have put budget aside for data literacy training this year, for a good reason. Data literacy is about improving an organization’s or individual’s ability to make decisions using data. And although training goes some way to support this, it is by no means the silver bullet on its own.

A true, all-encompassing data literacy plan needs to be considered alongside a broader set of changes that also includes strong leadership, adapting cultural norms, communication, and data availability. You can have a perfectly crafted data strategy and training plan, but without ensuring data literacy is embedded in the fabric of your organizational culture, it is like boarding a perfectly built “data” ship destined to sink.

Making an organization truly data-literate requires planning, time, and effort. It’s a worthwhile effort, as in our experience, organizations that invest in increasing their data literacy are able to deliver sustainable improvements in the impact their data can deliver.  

However, without a clear vision for data use and culture at the top of the business that uses data consistently to guide its decision-making, it is going to be difficult to embed this throughout the organization and risks not only the investment in data literacy training but in the wider investment and improvements in your data strategy.  

All too often, organizations dive in with technical training without the direction, leadership support, and toolsets in place that will allow the learnings from the training to be put to positive use. Low attendance rates for data literacy courses in organizations are often common; we have seen examples of circa 15% uptake rates on well-intended training programs. This has mainly been because they are not supported by a wider program of change that includes scene setting, communication, assets, and post-training action plans, so there are lessons to be learned here.  

If you are considering an investment or have a budget line signed off to improve data literacy at your organization, then it’s worth thinking about the following: 

1. Do you know your current levels of data literacy? It is good to understand the level of data literacy across the organization at the start of your data journey, so you know where you are and where you need to focus. Training typically shouldn’t be one size fits all. You will have different needs in different areas of the business, at different levels of seniority, based on your broader levels of capability with data and analytics.  

2. Have you got a strategy and plan for making your organization data-literate? Build a plan that includes data enablers, communication, and leadership, as well as data literacy training. Training comes in many forms and isn’t just a training course. It can be mass or personal and tailored dependent on the need. Remember too, not all people are “data people.”

3. How are you going to embed it in the fabric of the culture? Learn by doing and supplement with training for specific needs and use cases. Celebrate and communicate the successes to help create a culture of data literacy that fuels the desire for more data to inform good decision-making. 

Improving data literacy is imperative for organizations looking to get the most from their data. But without a holistic approach, you risk investing in skills that don’t get maximized, or worse, you risk your “unsinkable” data strategy not quite going to plan!