A Data and Analytics Leader's Guide to Data Literacy

August 26, 2021

Contributor: Kasey Panetta

Champion data literacy and measure its effectiveness by using relevant data literacy metrics.

As data and analytics strategies become integral to all aspects of digital business, being data-literate — having the ability to understand, share common knowledge of and have meaningful conversations about data — can enable organizations to seamlessly adopt existing and emerging technologies. To build a data-literate workforce, chief data officers (CDOs) need to quantify and communicate the success of data literacy training by defining and tracking relevant metrics.  

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“While data and analytics leaders, such as chief data officers, recognize that there is an inherent need for data-driven decision making, linking this demand to measurable business objectives and outcomes is an existing challenge,” says Alan D. Duncan, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner.

What is data literacy?

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.

Further, data literacy is an underlying component of digital dexterity — an employee’s ability and desire to use existing and emerging technology to drive better business outcomes. 

Poor data literacy is ranked as the second-biggest internal roadblock to the success of the CDO’s office, according to the Gartner Annual Chief Data Officer Survey. By 2023, data literacy will become essential in driving business value, demonstrated by its formal inclusion in over 80% of data and analytics strategies and change management programs. 

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Assess data literacy at your organization 

Data and analytics leaders are responsible for creating the narrative for data literacy and highlighting the business value to be gained.

Begin assessing data literacy at your organization with these questions:

  • How many people in your business can interpret straightforward statistical operations such as correlations or judge averages?
  • How many managers are able to construct a business case based on concrete, accurate and relevant numbers?
  • How many managers can explain the output of their systems or processes?
  • How many data scientists can explain the output of their machine learning algorithms?
  • How many of your customers can truly appreciate and internalize the essence of the data you share with them?

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Establish a data literacy training program

To achieve the ambitious goals of D&A strategies and address the existing skill gaps, CDOs should roll out data literacy training programs. It can help them create an environment where learning D&A skills and acquiring data literacy knowledge is a part of the organizational culture.

“Uncertain business environments, the changing nature of work and acceleration of digital business technology are causing skills gaps that need to be filled by developing new skills within the workforce,” says Duncan. 

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Start by identifying the fluent and native data speakers. Look at business analysts, data stewards and architects who are able to speak data naturally and effortlessly. Also, identify skilled translators who can serve as mediators for business groups.

Second, look for areas where communication barriers result in failing to use data to its full business potential. Conduct data literacy assessments to identify gaps, and use them as a baseline.

When it comes time to teach groups about data, make sure it’s in a fun and open environment, and think outside the box for training ideas. Don’t focus solely on slides or presentations — use games, quizzes and other creative ways to teach. 

Next, try a data literacy proof-of-concept workshop in an area where language gaps exist. Have participants describe real-life common use cases as well as a use case specific to your organization. Make sure to capture lessons learned and then repeat the exercise, ensuring that participants use others’ languages. Share the lessons with other groups to raise awareness and understanding of the literacy gap.

Finally, don’t forget that data and analytics leaders and data teams must lead by example. Ensure that teams are speaking data when discussing business outcomes in meetings and other business situations. Champion data literacy and evangelize the benefits of eliminating the data literacy gap.

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Measure the effectiveness of your data literacy initiatives

Quantify the success of data literacy programs

Employees and their managers should understand the benefits of data literacy training programs. They should have clear answers to “what’s in it for me?” and “how does the training relate to my current or future role?” 

To derive a clear and measurable value from the intended training, CDOs can:

  • Identify the success criteria of data literacy programs by reviewing the objectives and expected outcomes of the training.
  • Require employees learn aside on-the-job activities after the training.
  • Solicit regular feedback from employees so that the training becomes more relevant and addresses existing skill gaps and knowledge requirements.
  • Put the content and delivery mechanisms in place and enable employees to apply what they’ve learned.

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CDOs can look into these metrics — among others — for evaluating data literacy programs and the progress made by individual employees: 

  • The diversity of training courses available
  • Number of employees per course
  • Dwell time per content item
  • Number of employees passing the certification for specific D&A competencies/skills, like D&A leadership and decision making, D&A governance, information security and privacy, data science and machine learning. 
  • Employee’s ability to gauge the trustworthiness of information
  • Employee’s understanding of data provenance, lineage, etc.


This article has been updated from the February 2019 original to reflect new events, conditions and research.

Alan Duncan is Distinguished Vice President for Data and Analytics Strategy and Chief Data & Analytics Officers (CDAO).

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