Exclusive Interview With Founder Of Data To The People On Data Literacy

By Emeric Brard
on 2 March 2020

Jane Crofts founded Data To The People in 2017 to help organisations prepare for a data-driven future in which data literacy will be the key to their success. Data To The People aims to assess and develop lifelong data literacy across the globe and to support this ambitious goal it developed Databilities, the world’s first evidence-based data literacy competency framework, which was launched at the United Nations World Data Forum in October 2018.

Jane is also a founding board member of The Data Literacy Project, a global project with a mission to ignite discussion and develop the tools we need to shape a successful, data-literate society.

Women Love Tech talked to Jane Crofts about everything Data To The People and to find out why everyone needs to be data-literate in today’s economy.

How would you describe Data To The People?

Our mission at Data To The People is to make data literacy—the ability to read, write and comprehend data—a universal language. 

Through our research-backed Databilities framework, we provide leaders and organisations with the tools to measure individual and organisational data literacy, map their vision for what a good level of data literacy looks like at their organisation in the future, and develop programs for them to improve data competency across the board. With the world’s largest database of individual data literacy competency-based assessments, we’re uniquely placed to help organisations understand where they stand compared with their competitors, to the workforce in similar industries, locations and job family profiles. 

What made you want to start Data To The People?

My professional background is in business intelligence consulting and while working in this area I noticed a consistent tension between data roles and non-data roles in the organisations I worked with, regardless of their size or sector. I was eager to understand what was causing this tension and whether there was anything I could do to alleviate it. I started researching this area around the same time that the term ‘data literacy’ was beginning to appear in the mainstream. The idea really piqued my interest so I looked into it and soon discovered that no one had agreed what data literacy actually was, or how it was relevant to a person or organisation. This led me to build the Databilities framework as a means of understanding what data literacy really looks like to an individual and an organisation. From there, we built a number of additional tools and assessments that allow us to measure, map and build data literacy across different communities and organisations.

You mention the Databilities framework as a means of understanding data literacy. Can you explain how it works?

Databilities is an evidence-based data literacy competency framework. It consists of fifteen core competencies with up to six levels of capability across the dimensions of reading, writing and comprehension. We use it to measure the data literacy of individuals, and then scale this up to understand an organisation’s level of data literacy. 

We work closely with every client to identify what ‘good’ looks like for them and to map where they want to be as an organisation in terms of data literacy. From there we use Databilities to work out how big the gap is between where they are and where they want to be, and what they need to do to develop the specific skills and competencies to bridge this gap. 

I launched Databilities at the United Nations World Data Forum in 2018 and Statistics Canada has since labelled it as the most comprehensive assessment tool of individual data literacy in the world.

Data To The People is a founding partner of the Data Literacy Project. What’s The Project all about?

Data Literact Project

The Data Literacy Project is a global community of like-minded organisations dedicated to creating a data-literate world. Data To The People is a founding member alongside Accenture, Cognizant, Experian, Qlik, Pluralsight and the Chartered Institute of Marketing. In addition to being a founding partner, I also sit on the advisory board.

The Data Literacy Project provides a central hub of resources for individuals and organisations to assess their data literacy, as well as learning and educational resources and valuable research. We want to become a strong voice in business and the broader community so we can continue our work to advocate for a data-literate world.  

You’re the author of the children’s book Guardians of the Key, can you explain to us a bit what your thinking was behind that?

I wrote and published Guardians of the Key in 2018 for my son who would regularly ask what I did for work. I wanted him to properly understand what I did, particularly because of the relevance of data literacy to him and his future. 

data to the people, guardians of the key, Jane crofts

The book explores the fact that the ability to read and write was historically the closely guarded domain of only the rich and powerful—such as religious institutions, royalty and the nobility. It was only once literacy started to spread across the world, that we saw widespread social and economic advancement. And I think we’re going to see this very same evolution occur with data literacy.

At the heart of the book is a message that we’re all on a quest to find the key—the key being our ability to read, write and comprehend data—and that we all need to be vigilant in ensuring every person across the globe has the opportunity to develop their data literacy. We can’t let data literacy become the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. My hope is that the book also inspires interest in what we can unlock once we discover this key.

So if I’m interpreting that correctly, WE are the guardians of that key?

That’s correct, we are the guardians of the key. 

And I was really moved when in February of last year Gartner started using the phrase ‘we are the guardians and custodians’ of our data. It was exciting and humbling to hear one of the leading advisory organisations echo my language. I think the phrase works well because it’s appealing to kids, but can also be applied to what’s happening in the data world at large. 

So what are Data To The People’s goals? What are you aiming to achieve in the coming years?

We’re currently in a rapid growth phase which is great because it means that organisations are starting to really understand the importance of data literacy in their workforces and taking action to address it. We’re working with some of the largest public sector organisations around the world which is very exciting, a goal in the short term is to continue to scale and keep up with demand.

Data to the People

A longer-term and more ambitious goal for us at Data To The People is to make the measurement and benchmarking of data literacy for all ages and communities a global practice, just as it is for numeracy and literacy. This isn’t just important for the current workforce, it’s critical for the future workforce as well. I’d like Data To The People to be a key voice in advocating for the global measurement, reporting and analysis of data literacy levels.

We’re currently at the tail end of a really interesting study with a youth community group in Nepal which is testing the validity and applicability of the Databilities framework for a future workforce cohort. It’s been fascinating to see how young people in a developing nation from different provinces have responded, and how they interpret their current capabilities and the emerging need to become more competent in this area.

Looking back even to the end of last century, a lot of the focus was on literacy rates meaning general reading and writing, but do you think in this digitalised society and work environment that data literacy is becoming just as important?

Absolutely. I think data literacy is fast becoming as important as general literacy. Just as it’s difficult to participate in the current economy if you’re unable to read, we’re not far from a time where if you’re not comfortable reading, writing and comprehending data, it’s going to affect your ability to do your job and also to change jobs. 

It’s not enough for people to stand idly by anymore saying ‘oh data, that’s not my job’. From here it’s going to become increasingly important that we’re all part of the data conversation and comfortable in this space. I think data literacy will become the universal language as we move into the fourth industrial revolution. 

A lot of governments around the world are taking significant steps in the right direction when it comes to improving data literacy in the workforce. Canada, the UK and the US have all published hefty strategies and road maps that talk to them becoming data-driven and data-literate countries, with a particular focus on their public services. Australia’s got a lot of catching up to do.

What are your goals for the future? Since you’ve already had a book released, maybe there are other books in the pipeline that you’d like to write?

I think the Guardians of the Key story will need to evolve eventually. I’ve thought about the fact that as my son grows up, so too will the language in the book and the complexity of the themes. But a sequel or new addition is a fair way off at this point in time. 

Data literacy is going to be the key to our personal and professional success and will equip us to participate in a world that we can’t even imagine yet. On a personal level, I’d like to make sure my son is equipped for the future. And if I can do that for him, I’d like to think I can do that for everyone. I’ll start with my son and hopefully reach even more people.

Being a woman who has founded such a big company with such a big idea, what are your thoughts on women breaking through the gender barrier in a sector like technology, which is admittedly male-dominated, especially in areas like data and STEM in general? 

You can’t be what you can’t see – therefore the best chance we have at changing the landscape for women in the sector is for female leaders to become more visible. The more visible they are, the more younger women will be exposed to female role models and inspired to follow in their footsteps.

Women in the sector need to be prepared to confidently represent—even when this means being the only woman on stage alongside 20 or 30 male speakers. If we step out of our comfort zones and show that we’re here and that we’re strong and successful, younger women will see that we have a very valuable role to play and a very important seat at the table.

Do you see this as a trend that is increasing? Are you noticing more women coming into this sector and thriving?

I am, but this is not just about gender-balance. We’re hearing a lot more about diversity in terms of workplace practices and board representation.

As we move into the fourth industrial revolution it’s so important that we strive for true diversity across every factor, not just gender, but also cultural backgrounds, education and socio-economic status, etc. 

This is going to be particularly important in the tech sector: imagine if new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are created and written by just one person or only a small group of people. If this were the case, artificial intelligence would have the same biases that exist within the individual or the group which may lead to some pretty awful unintended consequences. The only way we can counter this is by having diversity in the engine room. That’s how we create something that’s reflective of, and useful to, society as a whole.

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