Five Steps to Improve Your State’s Data Literacy

Five Steps to Improve Your State’s Data Literacy

There’s a skills-gap crisis across state and local governments. State CIOs and other government leaders widely recognize the acute shortage of employees with the technical skills required to run modern, digitized organizations.

State and local agencies need to compete with the private sector – which itself is struggling with a talent shortage – to keep more than 21 million roles filled. Meanwhile, agencies have 450,000 fewer employees today than they did in 2020. On top of that, 52% of state and local workers are considering leaving their jobs because of low compensation and high burnout.

The stakes keep rising. By 2025, nearly 70% of employees across industries are expected to use data heavily in their jobs, according to a recent Forrester Research study. Workers increasingly recognize the value of data, with 83% saying they make better decisions when they use data.

Nearly as many employees say they’re more likely to stay with an organization that trains them in data skills, the study found. Yet technology training lags, with only 40% of workers reporting their organization has trained them in data literacy.

Five Steps to Data Literacy

But it’s not all bad news. Going forward, state and local organizations will leverage more technology, including emerging solutions like artificial intelligence (AI), to optimize more processes. Likewise, the residents they serve will benefit from better technology-driven customer experiences.

In this digitized, data-driven environment, agencies have an opportunity to close the data literacy gap to improve internal operations and external services. Here are five tactics for maximizing data literacy in your organization:

1. Develop a data literacy strategy.

You can’t simply offer some training courses and hope that will achieve the desired outcomes. Instead, approach data literacy the way you would any strategic initiative. Start with executive ownership. Align data literacy with your agency’s mission, identifying specific ways technical knowledge will improve your organization’s performance or serve constituents better. Think about ways you might incentivize employees to drive engagement.

2. Take a skills inventory.

Set baselines for acumen all employees should possess, as well as specialized knowledge for specific roles. Document the skills employees currently have, the skills you need, and where there are gaps. Keep in mind all aspects of data literacy, such as understanding data inputs and outputs, knowing how to communicate data analysis to others, recognizing how to use data to make decisions, and gaining proficiency with your agency’s technology tools.

Technical knowledge will become key as more employees use new technologies. The state of Maryland, for instance, leveraged a low-code solution to transform library grant approvals. Maryland State Library (MSL) now provides local libraries with a digitized process for submitting and tracking grant applications. Rather than depend on application developers, MSL line-of-business employees can configure the approval process to streamline workflows and adapt to changing needs.

3. Ensure access to technology and data.

Establish data standards that enforce how data is collected, managed, and analyzed across the organization. Address key issues such as data security and privacy. Communicate those standards to all employees. Then be sure the right people have secure access to the right databases and visualization tools.

The Commonwealth of Virginia took an innovative approach to getting information into the hands of authorized users. To better share data across organizations, it created a data trust – a legal framework that defines roles and responsibilities of entities that share data. Results include the Framework for Addiction Analysis & Community Transformation (FAACT), an initiative to reduce drug use in the state. Participating organizations share datasets such as police reports, EMS dispatches, and hospital admissions to understand, predict, and respond to spikes in opioid use.

4. Provide ongoing data literacy training.

Effective employee education and development lies at the heart of your data literacy strategy. Training should cover all aspects of data literacy, such as your portfolio of technology tools, data collection and management, and data analysis and visualization. Make training as hands-on as possible, with opportunities to use data in real-world contexts. Keep in mind that data literacy training isn’t “one and done” but must be ongoing and updated as technologies and requirements change. States such as Maryland have found success with formalized data literacy training, including online resources.

5. Foster a data-driven culture.

Data literacy is crucial on both an individual and an organizational level. Each employee needs the right technology skills for their role, and the organization itself must be data-driven. Start with executive advocates who are data-literate. Leverage internal communications and events such as hackathons to promote the use of technology and data in making decisions and solving problems. Create a virtuous circle where use of technology attracts the best talent, and the best talent pursues new ways of using technology to achieve your agency’s mission.

Bridging the technology skills gap and improving data literacy will take time. But the use of digital solutions and the need for technical knowledge in state and local agencies will only increase. By investing in data literacy, your organization can attract and retain the talent it needs to operate more efficiently and serve residents more effectively.

-Voyatek Leadership Team