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NASCIO: Data Literacy ‘Imperative’ for State Workforce

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers released a report Wednesday examining data literacy in state government. All state employees must have a “certain minimum level of understanding of data,” it said.

Closeup of colums of data points against gray backgrounds.
The emerging use of generative AI has heightened the urgent need for data literacy training in state government, according to a new report from a national CIO organization.

The work originated from its 2023 State CIO Survey, wherein officials at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) discovered a notable statistic — namely, that 84 percent of CIOs don’t have a formal data literacy or proficiency program in place for state employees.

NASCIO now considers it an “imperative,” it said in Data Literacy Within State Government: Building A Knowledgeable Workforce That Knows How to Use Data for Better Decisions, released Wednesday, that all state government workforces be data literate. This it defined as having a “command of data management and an understanding that data is a critical state government asset.”

All state employees must have a “certain minimum level of understanding of data”; of data quality; and have an ability to analyze data and obtain insights, officials said in the report, which highlighted data’s wide-reaching potential to improve processes ranging from routine day-to-day duties, to large-scale crisis management.

“Data literacy is an essential competency across all state governments, and it can enable everyone to fulfill their role in state government better,” said Eric Sweden, NASCIO program director of Enterprise Architecture and Governance, in a video press release about the report. “What we’re after are solid insights that can inform decision-makers. Those insights require quality data and quality data only happens if everyone is at some level of data literacy. Data quality will become even more important as states are pursuing advanced technologies in artificial intelligence and generative AI.”

NASCIO’s report underscores the dangers that come with feeding dirty data into generative AI programs, such as misallocated resources and money lost by prioritizing the wrong initiatives. And it refers to two states with developed programs as a potential resource for agencies that have yet to start a data literacy training process.

The Texas Department of Information Resources has posted an eight-part Texas Data Literacy Program online, encompassing everything from what data literacy is, to data ethics, privacy and best practices for security and sharing. The Indiana Management Performance Hub has created 16 lessons for Indiana’s Data Proficiency Program, paired with color-coded proficiency badges.

Beyond data literacy training, the report suggests state and local government agencies should have an established data officer or team that sets data governance standards to be followed by every department within that agency — paired with regular data audits to ensure data is clean, secure, complete and accurate.