From Betelgeuse to Earth: why we want Data Literacy

I’ll gloss over the homage to that 70s radio show featuring Zaphod Beeblebrox, the 2nd coolest man in the universe, and pull us from Betelgeuse back to Earth, and back to our campaign to improve Data Literacy. Dr O’Keefe neatly outlined what data literacy is and today I prose to wax on why we might want it.

Evidence is data but not all data is evidence!

Notwithstanding the warnings about the impact on our mental and spiritual development of making life easier through better use of information technology, as best outlined by the Egyptian god Thamus in his condemnation of this new fangled writing and to do lists, we live in the age of information and science, where it is possible to measure, monitor, model and understand a vast range of human, environmental and economic data to forecast, innovate and control. The current COVID-19 calamity is, regardless of your viewpoint, a massive lesson in statistics, probability and modelling for the general population, and the confusion engendered highlights the need for a much higher general level of data literacy in the population, never mind the pressing need of having data literates at board level.

I have spent 20 years working with companies wanting to be first knowledgeable, then data-driven, while rarely understanding the level of change actually implied in those ambitions. As more and more decisions become evidence-based, rather than prejudice-based, there is an obvious requirement for those decision-makers to be able, at least, to read the evidence (i.e. data that is relevant and furnishes proof that supports a conclusion) and to understand how the evidence has been put together. The inability or wilful refusal to look at the evidence is spectacularly demonstrated in the current UK Cabinet’s belief that all in the garden will be rosy, as disaster ensures.

Data-driven ‘evidence’ can be misleading for inapt decision-makers

Though this may only now be becoming obvious, data has always been the main asset in the quest for better decision-making. And better decision-making using a better evidence base is the primary driver of competitive advantage in all industries. Much of the disruption caused over the last 30 years has been driven by removing specialist systems from monopolies to the consumer. Or allowing better data to the little guy. Stockbroking, travel and health outcomes have improved as a result.

As data multiplies and analytics tools improve, it will be possible to make ever more complex decisions and have deeper understanding of any and multiple scenarios. However, it will be to naught if those decision-makers, who consume the output, remain unable to fully understand the evidence in front of them through statistical, technical or analytical ineptitude.

The strategy process is fully embedded in the use of data-driven evidence. Unfortunately, like the oracle at Delphi, lack of understanding of the evidence means the forecast is often misunderstood. In the current climate of high uncertainty and technological progression, it is difficult to see an investment that offers a better return on investment than improving the levels of data literacy across the organisation – but particularly at leadership and strategic levels – to ensure that best decisions consistently deliver the best strategic outcomes.

How can Castlebridge help?

If you are trying to develop data literacy in your organisation that goes beyond the mechanics of using tools and technologies, we can help.