The urgent need to foster data literacy
The COVID-19 crisis presents a monumental opportunity to engender a broad-based data culture. Since early 2020, the emergence of popular data sites like Worldometer have promoted interest and attention in data-driven tracking of the pandemic. “R values”, “flattening the curve” and “exponential increase” have seeped into everyday lexicon. Social media and the news outlets have filled the public consciousness with trends, rankings and graphs over multiple waves of COVID-19.
Yet, the crisis also reveals a critical lack of data literacy amongst citizens in many parts of the world. A surge of data actors with conflicting numbers have left the ordinary layperson more confused than informed. Keeping up with inconsistent reporting practices, dubious sources and heterogeneous data quality is becoming arduous and has contributed to wavering public trust in data, evidence and institutions in different parts of the world.
The supply of statistics and information has significantly outpaced the ability of lay citizens to make informed choices in the digital data age. Every day people are bombarded with aggregate statistics that may not be directly relatable for personal situations, face divergent views of evidence-based “experts” or need to make decisions about their data privacy – all of which demand a critical-thinking lens towards data.
There is an urgent need to develop data literacy at the level of individuals, organisations and society, such that all actors are empowered to navigate the complexity of modern data ecosystems. Further, the capacity to compare, contrast and parse meaningful information amidst the escalating data noise, can propel citizen engagement and civic participation for thriving deliberative democracies. This means that building a minimum set of relevant capabilities to become data literate is more important than ever.
Beyond a fragmented understanding and practice of data literacy
Interest in data literacy has steadily increased over time and in different parts of the world, including several non-OECD countries, signifying a broad-based acknowledgement of its need in today’s digital data age. However, much more needs to be done to mainstream its development through concerted efforts by different actors in society, including governments, private sector organisations, civil society and international organisations.
Data literacy is often defined, conceived and understood in different ways depending on the context, sometimes confounded with other adjacent competencies such as information, statistical or digital literacy. A modern framing of data literacy needs to account for the role of all actors, including citizens, not just as data consumers – but data producers and partners, which requires a transformational change in societal mind-sets and attitudes. Further, implementing data literacy policies and programmes remains a complex endeavour. The dual nature of this challenge contributes to a lack of effective targeting of data literacy interventions and an absence of a broad-based measure to evaluate the impact of such efforts.
There is an urgent need now to go beyond an ad-hoc understanding and operationalisation of data literacy to forge a common language around what it means to be data literate and consolidate learnings on how to do data literacy effectively. This session is part of an effort to drive a global dialogue to converge and catalyse the thinking and practice around data literacy, happening in different communities spanning media/journalism, development policy, official statistics and open data, and other areas.
Against the above background, the fireside chat aims to:
- Discuss the urgent need to foster data literacy among citizens, as part of a broad-based data culture
- Understand what data literacy means and which competencies does it cover
- Shed light on what practices have worked, and haven’t
- Discuss the path to the future of data literacy – how can we go beyond ad-hoc initiatives to sustained policy, investment and impact
All sessions will feature simultaneous translation in English, French and Spanish.
Fireside chat - Advancing data literacy in the post-pandemic world