Top 5 “Rules” for Being a Data Literacy Advocate

(and how to break them)

There are rules from losing weight to managing your career effectively to cooking in the kitchen. Rules are a great way to teach yourself skills you are uncomfortable with. Rules provide guidelines and the shortest path toward your intended outcome. It’s no different with data literacy. There are specific paths that will help you achieve your goals, and I will provide you with the tips to do so.

First, let’s level set on data literacy, and yes, we are still having this conversation. You will find many definitions – the most frequently used I’ve seen is Gartner’s definition.

Gartner defines data literacy as the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied, and the ability to describe the use case, application and resulting value.

https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/a-data-and-analytics-leaders-guide-to-data-literacy#:~:text=Gartner%20defines%20data%20literacy%20as,case%2C%20application%20and%20resulting%20value.

Personally, I find this definition overly complicated and tries to be all-encompassing. Would your mother, who used typewriters, and a rotary phone understand the meaning of that definition? Mine would give me a lot of side-eye.

Data literacy is simply the data skills required to thrive in a digital society. It exists because the cost of education has increased, along with the velocity of technology change, and our adaptation as humans to keep up with it has not kept pace. Heather McGowan has a great visual of the rate of change and our transformation.

https://www.leadinglearning.com/episode-242-the-adaptation-advantage-heather-mcgowan/

We, the average humans, are lagging behind. There is not a single person who does not need some level of data literacy today. Full Stop. From your grandparents who do not have a computer, wifi, or smartphone. To your kids who are using tablets to do homework. This is why defining data literacy as “understanding of data sources and constructs” is a bit cerebral, and we get to our rules now.

You’ve Got Mail

Sarah’s Rules for Data Literacy Advocates

  1. Tell your Data Literacy Story, and ask others for theirs. In the words of Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail,” in response to Tom Hanks saying, “it’s business, It isn’t personal,” she says, “It’s personal to me.”. Data literacy is personal to many people. Data Literacy is personal, and it isn’t only a corporate initiative, so start talking about it on a broader impact scale. It’s a global problem impacting every person, and it will create more significant inequities unless we talk about it on a societal scale.
  2. Create equitable pathways for multiple personas. Data Literacy is more than analytics; it’s about a person’s ability to navigate data where data didn’t exist before. Often data programs are focused on stats, which can be too advanced for ordinary people. Data impacts people, and many jobs don’t require stats, just the ability to navigate a world with data.
  3. Advocate for community-based data skills. The majority of people who need data literacy today are not in corporate jobs. It’s folks in jobs that never worked with data or are in the service industry, or else their jobs are taken over by automation. The fastest growing jobs are in data, but many people do not have time or access to needed skill-building. We need affordable community-based education.
  4. Question education programs that aren’t agile. Whether in corporate education or at a university, Data literacy is defined by the technological rate of change. If an education program isn’t updated regularly, it is at risk of being outdated within 5 years. Find out how learning objectives are being updated.
  5. Challenge the assumption that data literacy initiatives are owned by tech streams. Research shows that people leave jobs if they aren’t positioned for success more than any other leave reason. The fastest growing skills people need today? Data skills. Data literacy isn’t a new tech initiative; it’s a people initiative and should be treated.

What happens when the rules no longer work, though? What happens when you find yourself in a space that isn’t advocating for you? It’s ok to go off script and find a different path. It’s ok to remove yourself from someone else’s narrative so you can create your own and achieve your goals. Goals can be incredibly personal, and unless someone knows you well and is willing to shout your name from the rooftops – the single greatest advocate in your life is, quite simply, you.

Now, how to break them – create your own! These are the rules that I have seen emerge and how I navigate the world of data literacy. I also acknowledge that I have a bias toward tech as a white woman who struggled with access to education when I left high school. I am influenced by my experiences and tell stories from my experience. Your stories are just as crucial to the data literacy narrative and needs that are emerging – the only thing I ask is that you question your assumptions and seek to understand.

What’s next? Share your rules with me!

What does data literacy mean to you? Tag me on Twitter or LinkedIn and share!

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