Getting tough on information illiteracy

 
Jordan Morrow
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In the twentieth century, we saw opportunity worldwide change as literacy rapidly shifted from being an advantage for the privileged to becoming a necessity and a requirement in everyone’s education.

Just as literacy emerged as a key factor in driving progress then, in the digital-first era of today, it’s going to be data literacy that will emerge as the skill to carry individuals and organisations alike to prosperity.

Overwhelmed and unconfident

And yet, that widespread inequality is rearing its head again. When we are overwhelmed with data, battling fake news, and competing with the onset of automation in the workplace, we’ve found data illiteracy to be a real issue, with data inequality holding people and businesses back.

We carried out research looking at data literacy across Europe to get a better understanding of the ramifications of data equality.

Do you feel you’re data literate – that is, fully confident in your ability to read, work, analyse, and argue with data?

If not, you’re not alone; only 17 per cent of UK workers feel data literate. Should you be concerned? Yes.

We found a correlation between data literacy and job performance – 76 per cent of UK workers who are skilled at working with data say that they’re performing well at work, compared to only 49 per cent of those that are not.

Data is everywhere

In a world where smart cities are a reality, where my car talks to my kettle to say when I’ll be home or my bus stop tells my friend that I’m going to be running late, one thing is powering these innovations. And that’s data.

Data is at the heart of everything we do, so the ability to master the huge amounts of digital information available to an organisation is intrinsic to its success: 90 per cent of people using data at work said it helps them do their job better.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, there needs to be a level playing field. Everyone should have the right to succeed with data.

Key to this is empowering data literacy across the entire workforce. People are keen to learn the skills. Most workers we questioned (65 per cent) said that they would be willing to invest more time and energy into improving their data skill set.

Where to start?

But how can individuals upskill and encourage their organisations to get behind data literacy initiatives?

Start by pinpointing areas where you’re struggling and could use data to support you; proactively make the business case for your company to drive a culture of data literacy. Take steps yourself to make a change. You should find someone skilled with data in your organisation and ask for their support. Ask them to help upskill and empower those around them.

Next, take it upon yourself to ask more questions, interrogating the facts and information you are given. If you’re shown a graph, don’t take it at face value – make sure you understand the story it’s really telling, and start combining data sets to find even deeper insights.

And, remember, there’s no pressure to learn everything overnight. Start where you are and be realistic about the time it will take to build your skill set.

Reading, writing, and data processing

Ultimately, data literacy is becoming just as important as the ability to read and write. At work, it adds weight to our arguments and helps us to make better decisions, so we can perform more successfully.

Data illiteracy will hold both people and businesses back from achieving their potential, so let’s have data for all.