A Q&A on Data Literacy

The SNIA Cloud Storage Technologies Initiative (CSTI) recently hosted a conversation with Glyn Bowden from HPE that I moderated on “Using Data Literacy to Drive Insight.”  In a wide-ranging conversation just over 45 minutes, we had a great discussion on a variety of topics related to ensuring the accuracy of data in order to draw the right conclusions using current examples of data from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as law enforcement. In the process of the dialog, some questions and comments arose, and we’re collecting them in this blog. 

Q. So who really needs Data Literacy skills?

A: Really, everyone does.  We all make decisions in our daily life, and it helps to understand the provenance of the information being presented.  It’s also important to find ways to the source material for the data when necessary in order to make the best decisions. Everyone can benefit from knowing more about data.  We all need to interpret the information offered to us by people, press, journals, educators, colleagues, friends.

Q. What’s an example of “everyone” who needs data literacy?

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Achieving Data Literacy

We’re all spending our days living in the pandemic and understanding the cultural changes on a personal level.  That keening wail you hear is not some outside siren, it’s you staring out the window at the world that used to be.  But with all that, have you thought about the insight that you could be applying to your business?

If the pandemic has taught data professionals one essential thing, it’s this:  Data is like water when it escapes; it reaches every aspect of the community it inhabits. This fact becomes apparent when the general public has access to statistics, assessments, analysis and even medical journals related to the pandemic, at a scale never seen before.

But having access to data does not automatically grant the reader knowledge of how to interpret that data or the ability to derive insight. In fact, it can be quite challenging to judge the accuracy or value in that data.

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The Power of Data Aggregation during a Pandemic

The new coronavirus that has been ravaging countries and sending us all into lockdown is the most observed pandemic we’ve ever experienced. Data about the virus itself and perhaps more appropriately, the nations upon which it is having an impact have been shared from multiple sources. These include academic institutions such as John Hopkins University, national governments and international organisations such as the World Health Organisation. The data has been made available in many formats, from programmatically accessible APIs to downloadable comma delimited files to prepared data visualisations. We’ve never been more informed about the current status of anything.

Data Aggregation

What this newfound wealth of data has also brought to light is the true power of data aggregation. There is really only a limited number of conclusions that can be drawn from the number of active and resolved cases per nation and region. Over time, this can show us a trend and it also gives a very real snapshot of where we stand today. However, if we layer on additional data such as when actions were taken, we can see clear pictures of the impact of that strategy over time. With each nation taking differing approaches based on their own perceived position, mixed with culture and other socio-economic factors, we end up with a good side-by-side comparison of the strategies and their effectiveness. This is helping organisations and governments make decisions going forward, but data scientists globally are urging caution. In fact, the data we are producing today by processing all of these feeds may turn out to be far more valuable for the next pandemic, than it will for this one. It will be the analysis that helps create the “new normal.”

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