May 17, 2022
10 minutes read
Information Insight

Data Literacy Framework: The Key to Accomplishing Your Data Goals

You have a data strategy. You have a roadmap of expensive projects and impressive technology to help you implement them. There are ambitious goals tied to your success. You’ve even created new policies, processes, and procedures. Then, you launch. Low to moderate success is achieved. 

Expectations were so high! The project or tool had so much potential! So, what went wrong? Front-line staff bypassed procedures and entered the bare minimum data to fly through tasks more quickly. Executives ignored carefully developed KPIs in favor of “gut instinct.” 

Despite all your preparation, something was missing. Just as a garden’s success is dependent on how well you prepare and enrich the soil, execution of your data strategy relies on how well you prepare and enrich the people implementing it. Everyone, from front-line staff to executives, needs to have the skills to participate. 

That’s why it’s not just enough to invest in tools and planning. Investing in data literacy, so your employees can leverage data and technology to achieve the ambitious goals you set, is also critical. The way you approach this process—your data literacy framework—makes a difference. The right framework should incorporate considerations for your data goals, your workforce’s current capabilities, and the tools you will use to implement your data strategy. 

Here’s why it’s important to cultivate a data-literate workforce and what you should consider as you build your data literacy framework. 

Understanding Data Literacy

According to MIT, data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyze, and argue with data. To build a data-literate company, employees need to have different levels of competency with each aspect of data literacy. For example, front-line workers need to be more adept at reading and working with data, whereas managers need to be more skilled in analyzing and arguing with data. 

Improving employees’ data literacy skills enables them to: 

  • Know what data to use for specific purposes
  • Be able to interpret data visualizations
  • Understand analytics tools and think critically about the information they yield
  • Communicate information about data to people who lack data literacy

With these capabilities, they can incorporate data in their day-to-day tasks and bring your business closer to realizing its data strategy goals. 

Why Is Data Literacy Important?

Businesses that invest in data literacy programs see wide-ranging benefits, from higher levels of productivity to increased data utilization. 

Improve Employee Productivity, Satisfaction, and Propensity to Innovate

According to a Tableau report, data literate employees are more productive and make faster, better decisions, which translates to a better customer experience. With better access to data, and the skills to use that data effectively, employees are more capable of innovating. Offering a data literacy program also increases loyalty—nearly 80% of employees say they’re more likely to stay at a company that offers data upskilling.

Make Better Use of Data

By closing the data literacy skills gap, you can empower employees to leverage data to solve business challenges. For example, there’s no shortage of people analytics tools available to help HR teams track turnover, engagement, diversity, and other key metrics. When they know how to choose the right data sources, interpret data sets, delineate between causation and correlation, and communicate their findings, they can take full advantage of these tools.

Increase Data Maturity

Improving data literacy is a key aspect of progressing through the stages of data maturity. At the highest level of data maturity, data management isn’t solely the responsibility of IT. Instead, IT works in unison with the larger business to develop and maintain data management strategies and employees at all levels are capable of using data to drive decision-making. 

Barriers to Establishing Data Literacy

Considering these benefits, why is it so difficult to increase data literacy and realize its potential? Cultural and technical hurdles often get in the way. As you build your data literacy framework, it’s important to think about how these barriers impact your business. 

  • Data ownership and management are often owned by IT or data science functions and there is no common awareness across the organization of how data is used. It’s “Someone else’s job.” This is often caused by a lack of data governance and can lead to a divisive culture. Teams work with data in silos and have no way to build on one another’s work. 
  • Technical hurdles, such as information silos and tools that require specialized expertise, keep employees from accessing the data they need to grow their skills. It’s hard to develop data literacy skills without putting them into practice. 
  • Employees can be overwhelmed when new tools and practices are introduced too quickly. If data literacy programs aren’t tailored to meet them where they are, it’s harder for them to engage with or retain the information provided.

Building a Data Literacy Framework

Effective data literacy programs are geared towards empowering employees at all levels of the organization to use data effectively. According to the above Tableau report, organizations that offer training for a wide variety of skills to all employees see better results than those that only offer narrowly focused training programs. So, how do you offer the right education without overwhelming your workforce?

By following a data literacy framework, you can take a methodical approach to develop a program that will have lasting, tangible benefits for your workforce and your business. 

1. Generate the Need 

Because improving data literacy requires a cultural shift, getting leadership buy-in is essential. To get leaders and other key stakeholders on board with the data literacy program, show them its value to the business. 

2. Assess the Data Literacy of Your Workforce 

Based on their previous experience and the data functions they’re currently expected to perform, individual employees’ current data literacy skill levels will vary. By assessing their current capabilities, you can create tailored programs that will drive comprehension and better data utilization.

3. Teach Basic Data Concepts

At this stage, it’s important to get individual contributors engaged with data. They need to understand the “why” behind the project. Teach the value of data, and how it can improve day-to-day workflows, so that individual employees understand its role in their work.

4. Develop a Common Language

Even though you’re asking employees to level up their skills, they shouldn’t be expected to become data gurus. Engage employees at all levels by simplifying difficult concepts and using ordinary language instead of technical jargon.

5. Develop Employee Data Management Capabilities

As employees gain more awareness and access to data, they play a larger role in maintaining its accuracy, accessibility, and safety. Educate them on the data management best practices and company policies they need to know to promote data integrity.

6. Apply Data Knowledge 

As employees become more data literate, encourage them to use data more often. Promote data as a tool that empowers them to solve problems, innovate, and collaborate with confidence. 

Advance Data Literacy in Your Workforce

A successful data literacy program backed by a solid framework can help your company transform into a data-driven organization. It ensures that the time, energy, and money you invest in your data strategy, roadmap, and tools pay off. Instead of experiencing the disappointment of poor-performing projects, you can execute data initiatives with confidence. 

At Kenway, we understand the important role education plays in the success of any data initiative. Whether you need help developing your data literacy program, or if you want to ensure that literacy is a key component of your next data project, we can help. To learn how we help other companies like yours, read our case studies.


What is a data literacy framework? 

A data literacy framework guides your data literacy program. It includes considerations for your workforce’s current capabilities, your data goals, and an educational plan geared towards helping them gradually develop their skills. 

What are the main characteristics of data literacy?

According to MIT, the main characteristics of data literacy are reading, working with, analyzing, and arguing with data. The more competent employees are in these areas, the higher their level of data literacy.

How do you develop data literacy?

To develop data literacy, follow a well-developed plan to promote a data-literate culture. Employees should be encouraged to become more aware of and engaged with data in their day-to-day work. To promote success, an effective data literacy program should be tailored to meet employees at their current level of competency. 

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