Beyond Data Literacy Workshop in NYC

Carson Martinez Blog

On Tuesday, September 29th, Data-Pop Alliance launched a white paper entitled “Beyond Data Literacy: Reinventing Community Engagement and Empowerment in the Age of Data” and hosted a discussion workshop at its incubator, ThoughtWorks, in New York City. Attendees included representatives from the UN Foundation, Kurante, the Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), UN Population Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, UN Global Pulse, Sustainable Development Solutions Network, UNICEF, and the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications.

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Emmanuel Letouzé, Co-Founder and Director of Data-Pop Alliance, speaking about the data literacy and social inclusion.

In partnership with Internews, World Economic Forum, Paris21, and Sustainable Development Solutions Network, “Beyond Data Literacy” attempts to tackle the vital questions of what is data literacy, why does it matter, and how it can and should be utilized for social inclusion - a term later elaborated on to include 'data inclusion.' Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, Toshiba Professor at MIT and Academic Director of Data-Pop Alliance, welcomed attendees and stressed the importance of exploring the relationship between data and our continually changing and digitally emerging world.

The discussion was opened by Claire Melamed of Overseas Development Institute and Co-Director for ODI for Data-Pop Alliance, who explained that although there has been a lot of talk about production of data literacy, there has not been much discussion about its use. She emphasized the “digital divide”—the differential access and ability to use information and communications technologies between individuals, communities and countries, and the resulting socioeconomic and political inequalities—as contributors to the uncertainty of how data literacy should and can be used to produce beneficial outcomes. Melamed encouraged those in attendance to consider who the groups of people are that can benefit from data literacy.

Emmanuel Letouzé, Co-Founder and Director of Data-Pop Alliance, provided an overview of the white paper. He introduced the topic of data literacy by analyzing the history of literacy and how it has transformed literacy in the age of the data today. Letouzé emphasized that “we need to get a common understanding of what data literacy is and what it isn’t—what it entails, what it implies—before we can start developing programs.” He described Data-Pop Alliance’s definition of 'data literacy' - the desire and ability to engage constructively in society through and about data, and described the core content of the white paper.

Data literacy is the desire and ability to constructively engage in society through and about data.

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Panelists and attendees at the September 29th launch of Beyond Data Literacy in Data-Pop Alliance's headquarters at ThoughtWorks NYC.

Introducing the complexity of data literacy, Amanda Noonan, Director of the Internews Center for Innovation & Learning, pointed out that “data ecosystems are currently incomplete,” because the connections between people working in the spaces are weak. She argued that a truly effective data revolution is one that is inclusive and bridges the connection gaps through engagement of all actors. Data journalists - as data interpreters - are key to building these connections by telling rich stories through data that are meaningful for their communities. Noonan stressed that it is only once participatory networks are made, in which everyone is “able to contact information, understand the information, engage with the information, and act on the information in whatever way is appropriate to them,” that we can make good use of data systems and better understand where investments are needed.

William Hoffman, Head of Data-Driven Development, World Economic Forum USA, added that although data literacy is frequently misunderstood and its definition is sometimes unclear, it is vital for inclusion and how individuals, communities, and societies connect to one another. Jeanne Bourgault, President and CEo of Internews, summarized that “data literacy is really about the ability to create, share, consume, produce, and analyze for their own self,” and it is essential that building local capacity of data literacy so that individuals may make informed choices with data. The meeting concluded with presentations of educational training plans seed-funded by the Hewlett Foundation, by Emmanuel Letouzé, and by Johannes Jütting, Manager of PARIS21.

The paper, “Beyond Data Literacy: Reinventing Community Engagement and Empowerment in the Age of Data” is published and available for download.

Watch our coinciding video, which is our first video in the series on Big Data and development, on  "What is Data Literacy?"

Watch our second video in the series entitled "Entering the Age of Data: A Focus on Data Inclusion".