But use storytelling to understand both
There are many clichés around data, from referring to it as the new oil to the assertion that we're blind and deaf without it. But despite the buzzwords, these statements have an element of truth to them: the modern world generates and consumes more data than at any other point in history, and understanding how to collect and use it is crucial.
A panel of data experts - Simon Ratcliffe of Ensono, Suzy Gallier of health data research hub Pioneer, and Jane Deal of The Law Society - came together to discuss the topic of data-readiness at Computing's IT Leaders Forum last month. All agreed that quality and transparency of data are vital, but understanding data is even more so.
One of the best ways to promote data literacy is through storytelling: a point all three panellists agreed on. Deal said she used this in a past role, at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, to teach people about data protection.
"We chose a person in fundraising who was a bit of a live wire and a good storyteller to create an article. Instead of 'What you need to know about data protection' he titled it 'Are you the weakest link?', wrote a story and made it real for people. People were well through the article before they realised they were being talked to about data protection."
Ratcliffe also agreed, referring back to this answer when handling an audience question about the GDPR:
"Data literacy isn't all about just being data, data, data... There needs to be a level of awareness in there. I'm a huge believer in the concept of storytelling, and if you don't use the word data in a story that's even better, because suddenly people are thinking about it in a context that makes sense to them.
"The problem with data is it's become a headline, much like GDPR became a headline, and actually the proper story lies underneath that. Rather like data protection - and I think data literacy is the same - it's about not only understanding the importance of data, but also understanding what's not important in there. Not all data is equal... We need to learn to take a pragmatic view of it."
Gallier said that storytelling had helped Pioneer in a similar fashion.
"It's about making [data] contextual for the individual, so there are different stories and videos, and we have actors playing out scenes of someone asking for a specific piece of data in a clinical environment, so it makes people see how these things can easily happen if you aren't thinking about it. As a hospital we take that very seriously."
However, there must be a balance between data protection and data use. Protecting data, especially in a healthcare environment, is incredibly important, but you cannot simply lock everything down and call it good. "I've come across organisations where nothing can go anywhere," said Ratcliffe. Gallier expanded on his point:
"The whole point is that if we don't get [data literacy] right and we don't actually enable access and make that data discoverable, we're not going to have the next lot of innovation; we're not going to have the next transformation... Equally, it's always about that balance: what are we actually allowed to do, and what level of data are we able to provide?"
To sum up: data literacy is absolutely key, but so is data protection. Use storytelling to understand both, and don't let one stand in the way of the other.
All of the sessions from the latest IT Leaders Forum, covering all aspects of data readiness and use, are now available to watch on-demand.