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Data Literacy: A Competency for Government Transparency

The returns from investing in data literacy are bountiful. A Forrester report in 2022 found that data training improves retention and employee happiness, and significantly enhances innovation, customer experience, decision-making and more.

However, it isn’t only these organizational efficiencies that make data literacy worthwhile. Fostering data acumen is tied to the core mission of government agencies: serving constituents.

“Data literacy is professional development for people internally, but that professional development is in service of their communities,” said Sarah Nell-Rodriquez at Tableau, an analytics platform provider that helps people see and understand data.

Why It Matters

Agencies generate, collect and distribute so much data that impact people’s lives, from health to public safety. It hasn’t always been available to the public, but increasingly, they are making it visible as a way to build trust and be transparent with their constituents.

The city of Dallas, for example, released a public dashboard with easily understandable information on crime that doesn’t compromise sensitive personal information. Users can identify crime hot spots and response times through the dashboard, which updates daily. And residents now have access to information on crime that they didn’t have before. It’s a step toward building trust, Nell-Rodriquez said.

How To Get Started

To start providing transparency through data, agencies first need to get all employees up to speed on their data literacy. And that’s not an easy task.

Technology has changed so much, but our skill sets haven’t kept pace, Nell-Rodriquez said. People and organizations that previously didn’t use data all that much suddenly have to start using it at a more advanced level.

That’s why it’s imperative to establish a data literacy program at your agency.

First, it needs to be agile. Data training cannot be a one-and-done deal. You have to continue introducing new ways for employees to learn skills as technology evolves. Focus on establishing sustainable, adjustable growth journeys for your staff, whether they’re data experts or not.

Second, have accessible assessments. Are you developing sustainable programs that meet people at the skill levels they’re at? And are you assessing the actual skills of your target audience, or the employees who are impacted by data? Create a pathway of feedback to identify skill levels and to determine what makes people uncomfortable with using data right now.

Third, co-design, or design solutions with users and stakeholders from the start. People can resist change especially when they are not involved in it. When you build data solutions or programs, you need the perspectives of users to inform the journey, particularly when they’re non-data experts. Their voices will help build sustainable tools that will be useful to public servants, instead of tools that fall by the wayside.

If data is a way to be transparent with communities, it’s critical that all employees know how to use it.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide “Your Data Literacy Guide to Everyday Collaboration.”

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