Data can improve lives only when it is effectively used to generate insights and inform decisions.
The World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives identifies three primary pathways for data use. Governments or international organizations can use data to make evidence-based decisions. Civil society can rely on data to monitor government policies and programs, empowering individuals to hold their governments accountable and access services based on their needs and preferences. Finally, the private sector can create and use data to generate new business opportunities and boost shared prosperity.
For these actors to benefit from data, data must be accessible, and people need the requisite skills to use data. Realizing the tremendous untapped value of data, beginning in 2009, governments began making data more accessible through Open Data policies. However, we have seen that higher levels of data availability do not automatically lead to higher data use. Data use depends on the norms, behaviors, and capacity of data users.
The pandemic created an unprecedented, urgent need for good quality, timely data around the world. It likewise created an urgency to strengthen broad capacity and embrace a culture of data access and use to enable the public to understand and combat the virus effectively. We are seeing governments, media, and the public use data to track the spread of COVID-19 and its effects. The COVID-19 crisis also demonstrated consequences of low levels of data literacy and data-informed decisions and communication, including in low- and middle-income countries, which has led to confusion among the public, sowed distrust in science and institutions.
We define data literacy as an individual’s capacity to find, access, read, work with, and analyze data to responsibly inform decisions.
In an increasingly data-driven world, data literacy is also a critical skill for civic engagement and one of the “core” skills needed for public sector innovation. Data literacy increases trust in data, enhances the discourse for policymaking, strengthens accountability, and enables the private sector to innovate. Information and data literacy are also one of the five areas of competencies identified in the European Union’s DigComp 2.0, a comprehensive and widely used framework for digital skills.
The World Bank’s Data Use and Literacy program delivers a range of activities to build capacity for data literacy and data use; enable data-driven decision-making; and democratize participation in the data revolution across low- and middle-income countries.
The program is led by the World Bank’s Development Data Group. It aims to broadly expand and enable data access, consumption, and use for decision-making at all levels through a combination of skills development, institutional strengthening, and behavior change engagements for government officials and stakeholders in the media, civil society, academia, and the private sector. Since 2012, the World Bank has supported data literacy and data use in more than 30 countries.
At the national level, the Data Use and Literacy Program works with:
- Officials in national statistical offices, line ministries, and national and subnational governments, to enhance their data production, sharing, and use skills; and
- Diverse groups of stakeholders such as those in media, civil society, academia, and private sector, to enhance their data analysis and use skills.