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How One Woman Is Bridging The World's Data Literacy Gap By Educating The Next Generation

All Photos Courtesy of the Members.

The growing prevalence of technology such as automation, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning means “data” is becoming a universal language across all industries. However, not enough people currently speak this language. In fact, as our collective volume of data increases, so too does our data literacy gap.

In a corporate context, data literacy is workers’ ability to read, analyze, utilize and disperse data throughout an organization. Data literacy helps people collect the right kind of data and derive meaningful insights from that data to incite a measurable impact on performance and revenue.

For today’s businesses, failure to maximize data literacy amounts to a huge missed opportunity. A recent academic study commissioned by computer software company Qlik on behalf of the Data Literacy Project found that companies that are more data literate experience 3 to 5% greater enterprise value, which translates to $300 to $500 million greater total market value.

The same study suggests a lack of data literacy initiatives prevents many businesses from fully capitalizing on the potential value of their data. While 92% of business leaders believe their employees should be data literate, only 17% say their businesses take active measures to promote employee data literacy.

While Gartner forecasts that up to 40% of data science tasks will be automated by 2020, the overwhelming majority of these tasks are repetitive functions that require little or no human insight. Because those jobs that do require human insight will require data specialists with an unprecedented level of data literacy, closing the data literacy gap is growing more crucial by the day.

Forbes Communications Council member Lisa Carraway is Senior Director of Internal Communications at Qlik. Headquartered in Radnor, Pennsylvania, Qlik delivers data visualization solutions and analytics applications to about 45,000 companies of all sizes throughout the world. Carraway says the global data literacy gap affects all aspects of organizations and society as a whole. “Companies are struggling as they seek to hire data literate employees, and schools – from primary to higher education – are trying to keep up with the rapidly changing technology landscape,” she says.

According to Carraway, solving the planet’s various environmental crises is contingent on improving humanity’s data literacy. “Data literacy is critical to creating a workforce that can address complex global challenges such as climate change,” she says. Yet, while all people contribute to problems such as global warming, Carraway says less than a third of us can confidently understand, analyze and argue with the data necessary to devise solutions.

Carraway’s mission at Qlik is to effectively communicate the importance of data for driving smarter decision-making and providing powerful insights. “Our vision is for a data literate world where people can read, write and communicate data in context, and community engagement is key to creating this dialogue,” she says. Recently, Carraway connected Qlik’s data literacy and academic teams with York College professors and administrators for a data literacy talk. She also participated in Qlik’s sponsorship and judging of the annual PA Media and Design Competition, which highlights Pennsylvania middle and high school students’ application skills, creativity and knowledge.

Last year, Qlik and several other companies launched the Data Literacy Project, an independent community effort focused on improving global data literacy through free educational resources, best practice sharing and community dialogue. Carraway projects that by 2025 the Data Literacy Project will have supported global educational institutions in placing data literacy at the heart of their curriculums. Qlik is also hosting free online data literacy courses to help build a data literate workforce.

Carraway says today’s organizations have a huge opportunity to raise the data literacy rate in all facets of business and bridge the gap between the perceived relevance of data and actual data literacy. For those in communications, this can translate into data-driven plans with metrics that provide insight into the read rates and patterns of consumption within a population.

She encourages data literate professionals to pay it forward by engaging with academic institutions and educators who are guiding the next generation. Whether it’s teaching kids about potential real world solutions derived from data or actively building data applications with them, Carraway says every effort to foster data literacy in students makes a difference: “Curiosity and creativity are abundant and there to nurture. All of us in the business community are in a great position to demonstrate the power of data to transform and inspire.”

For more information, check out Lisa Carraway’s executive profile here. To learn more about Forbes Communications Council and see if you qualify for membership, click here.

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