A version of this article was originally published on EyeSeeData.com
Many of us learned to count, read, and write numbers before we mastered the complexities of the alphabet and the written word. We are flooded with facts and figures every day, but how well do we understand the meaning behind all those numbers? The ability to derive meaningful information from data is called data literacy. By the year 2020, Gartner expects that 80% of organizations will start to roll out internal data literacy initiatives to up-skill their workforce.
To demonstrate how data literacy applies to real life, let me start by asking you a simple question about the weather, or more specifically about tomorrow’s rain forecast. Take a look at the weather forecast below; it’s characteristic of the format that the Bureau of Meteorology uses down here in Australia. Your local format might vary.
Consider the three green colored numbers related to rain. What do these numbers tell you?
Which is of these do you think is correct?
- 60% chance of rain between 2mm and 10mm
- 60% chance of rain in a 24 hour period
- 40% chance of rain less than 2mm
These answers represent three crucial data elements describing two simple events—the chance of rain and the rainfall amount. When I conducted this non-scientific survey in the office, the majority answered this question incorrectly.
The correct answer is B. Read the full explanation here.
This was not intended to be a tricky question, but despite its simplicity, it still required a level of literacy specific to weather forecasting. This example illustrates that often data and numbers are more difficult to understand than we initially expected. It also demonstrates that data literacy is not just the ability to read the numbers, but the ability to find meaning in the numbers.