From unconscious to reflective: What level of data user are you?

Dr Selena Fisk

  • Data expert, author
Dr Selena Fisk is a data expert and author of I’m Not A Numbers Person: How to make good decisions in a data-rich world (Major Street Publishing). If you are interested in learning more about your skills with data, and would like to take, or have your team take Selena’s data diagnostic to ascertain your level of skill and areas of growth, feel free to reach out.

Using data is a hot topic right now. Leaders are realising data can no longer just be the responsibility of dedicated analysts or staff with ‘data’ in their title or role description.

Organisations are realising that – as we move towards the third generation of business intelligence (Qlik 3rd generation business intelligence: Unlocking all the possibility in your data). We need to upskill more employees, so they are able to engage with and ask good questions of the data. And individuals are looking for ways to build their own skill and understanding.

We all sit somewhere on a continuum of data use regardless of our role in the organisation, from people who do not engage with data at all, to people who are highly receptive to, and regularly use and reflect on the data that they have access to. We all fit on this continuum somewhere, and we all have the capacity to move up (and down) depending on how much time and effort we invest in building our skills.

As we progress along the continuum of using data, we increasingly use data to inform action and guide the next steps that we take – whether that be individually, in our teams, or across the organisation more broadly. That is, as we use data more frequently, and connect the data to informing our actions, the greater impact that we are able to have.

Along this continuum there are six key stages that we move through in our use of data, and it worthwhile to remember that wherever you are right now is absolutely okay. It is useful to consider where you are at the moment, where you might have been previously, and what your next steps could be to help you move forward. If you are at the beginning stages of the continuum, it is more important that you are aware of your level and have a willingness to move forward. When we are willing and able to invest time and effort in building our skills, like anything, we will improve.

There are not many people at the first stage of ‘unconscious’ when it comes to data, as it is becoming pretty clear to most of the population that data is an increasing priority. People at this level are largely unaware of the role of data in our lives and work, and there is only a small percentage of the population who would fit into this category. Chances are, if you have read this far, chances are, you are not in this category.

‘Conscious’ users have begun to explore the role of data in their world, but do not understand it well. As a result, they might fear data and how it might be used, and they would not be able to critically engage with the information that they are given or do see.

‘Casual’ users are beginning to dabble in the world of data, but have an understanding that is quite limited, and may only include a couple of key or regularly used types of data. They might find it difficult to engage in a conversation about data, because they do not have the skills, or the confidence in their skills to think quickly about what the numbers might mean.

People at the stage of being ‘aware’ are developing their understanding of the numbers in their world and could be trying to embed this understanding in their work. Because these people understand the value of improving their skill, they might be actively seeking to learn, to testing out new ideas. However, they will be able to see the amount of time and effort it takes to improve and will make mistakes as they progress through this level.

When users reach the point of being ‘active’, they use the data fairly regularly in their work, and they do so with a high degree of accuracy. They connect the trends and learning from the data with actions they can take, and they engage in evidence-informed practice and decision making. They will not always get it right, and it may not lean on the data all of the time, but they are giving it a go and are actively upskilling and responding to the data when they can.

The highest level on the continuum is the ‘reflective’ user, who not only acts on the data, but reflects on the impact that their actions had, and refines and adjusts their processes as they go. They are in a regular cycle of hypothesis testing, or action research, where they understand that there is no magic wand to improve. However, by thinking creatively, trying different things, and responding to the available data, they are informed and guided by the evidence that they have.

Everyone has the capacity to improve and move up these levels of data use over time, as you can and will improve your understanding of the data, and your skill with it, if you try. It is important to note, however, that is like any complex skill – it takes time, it will not all be smooth sailing, and there are parts on the learning journey that will really challenge you, and some parts that you will find easier than others. All of that is okay, and completely normal.  

Tags: data analytics, data-driven marketing, business leadership, marketing leadership

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