AWS Public Sector Blog

4 steps to launching a successful data literacy program for public sector employees

This is a guest post by Kevin Mills, vice president of government partnerships at Coursera.

Public sector agencies today require digital skills to deliver the functions citizens expect, and the innovations necessary to speed up processes and address gaps and inequity.

However, digital transformation can only be achieved when workers have the data literacy skills to read, interpret, communicate, and reason with this data.

Investing in data literacy training benefits both organizations and employees. According to a 2022 AWS and Gallup Global Digital Skills Study, 72% of workers with advanced digital skills express high job satisfaction, compared to 43% of those with basic skills. Increased worker income and productivity add an estimated $6.3 trillion a year to global GDP, and organizations using digital skills at a high-level report annual revenues around 168% higher than those who do not.

At the same time, 87% of surveyed employees recognize data as an asset in the workplace. However, just 21% of the global workforce is confident in their data literacy skills.

Fortunately, disrupting these preconceived notions and inspiring enthusiasm for data literacy is at the crux of many public sector learning initiatives.

Coursera, an AWS Training Partner, is a global online learning platform that offers a broad catalog of content and credentials, including courses, specializations, professional certificates, guided projects, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees. A member of the AWS Partner Network (APN), Coursera hosts their online learning platform in the AWS Cloud and works in close collaboration with the AWS Training & Certification Team in mission alignment on helping organizations upskill employees with the cloud skills needed to transform their business.

Coursera has worked with 200 government agencies around the world, including the Abu Dhabi School of Government (ADSG) in the United Arab Emirates, the Central Bank of Brazil, the European Patent Office, the Philippines Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) in the United States, to empower their learners with the critical skills to shape policy, and to deliver more effective services to citizens.

These learning efforts have produced tangible results: 60,000 government employees trained in data science, artificial intelligence (AI), leadership, and digital transformation in Abu Dhabi; a more resilient public infrastructure in the Philippines; and heightened digital sophistication through data literacy for the Department of Defense.

Based on these experiences, we have created a four-step framework for successfully building and managing a data literacy program: plan, curate, engage, and measure.

Figure 1. Illustration depicting the various actions outlined in Coursera’s four-step framework for managing a data literacy program. Step 1: Action includes determine ownership, assess skill levels, identify your skills of tomorrow, and create a skills plan. Step 2: Curate includes access trusted content and map skill needs to content. Step 3: Engage includes secure executive sponsorship, promote inclusion, create a communication plan, experiment with learning routines, and facilitate a learning community. Step 4: Measure includes determine the metrics that matter and monitor learning performance.

Figure 1. Illustration depicting the various actions outlined in Coursera’s four-step framework for managing a data literacy program.

In this post, learn how your organization can adopt this framework to empower your workforce to harness data more effectively.

Step 1: Plan

Public sector agencies often manage many services for a diverse range of audiences, so prioritization and strategic allocation of resources is vital. Understanding what your organization wants to accomplish (and wants to accomplish first) can help you identify the type of tools and data you require, the skills your organization needs, and the people who are best placed to take ownership of the project. This focus also provides your organization and workforce with a stronger sense of shared purpose.

Organizations embarking on a data literacy upskilling program should consider key questions such as:

  • “Why are you launching this skills program?”
  • “Who are the learners? What skills do they currently possess? How would they utilize the new skills learned?”
  • “Who will own the program and its implementation, and why?”
  • “How will you measure success?”

This can help you build a more compelling picture of your aims, and why they should be shared across your team.

Figure 2. This image depicts the three pieces of a data-first government via a pyramid. Situated on top of the pyramid is 1) technical teams have cutting-edge skills. Underneath, 2) functional teams are data-driven. The base of the pyramid, 3) everyone is data literate.

Figure 2. This image depicts the three pieces of a data-first government via a pyramid. Situated on top of the pyramid is 1) technical teams have cutting-edge skills. Underneath, 2) functional teams are data-driven. The base of the pyramid, 3) everyone is data literate.

Step 2: Curate

Once your agency has agreed on its objectives, the owners can identify which learning resources are required to bridge the gaps. Key content curation considerations include topic, author, and format.

Coursera, for instance, works with trusted higher education and industry partners to create content that is relevant to the changing workforce, such as AWS’s courses on practical data science, machine learning (ML), and DevOps.

We have also found that some of the most effective programs contain a variety of content formats—from two-minute-long videos to two-hour-long hands-on projects, to professional certificates that take three to six months to complete, or online degrees that can take years. In some cases, progress in one of these content formats can apply to another. For example, participants in the no-cost online training initiative The American Dream Academy, launched in partnership between Coursera and the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream (MCAAD), are able to apply progress in certain professional certificates toward degree programs at Western Governors University and the University of North Texas.

Step 3: Engage

Public sector organizations need to identify and respond to the ever-changing needs of governments and communities. That means adopting a “lifelong learning” culture, in which teams are always open to potential innovations and adaptations.

In many agencies, there is still a way to go. A 2022 NewVantage Partners executive survey revealed that just 19.3% of organizations believed they had established a “data-driven culture”, while 91.9% cited cultural factors, such as people and process, as the main barrier to change.

There are many ways to build a culture of learning. For instance, organizations can invite teams to study sessions, hosting lunch-and-learn opportunities, or creating company-wide calendar blocks dedicated to learning. However, one of the most significant factors is demonstrating buy-in from the top-down.

According to a cross-industry study conducted by EY and University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, workers rank leaders as the number one driver of digital transformation—whether the program is successful or not.

Step 4: Measure

Measuring impact is not just necessary to establish return on investment—it’s an essential part of the process of improving outcomes and increasing engagement.

Based on the goals and success criteria established at the outset, learning program owners should be able to consider how programs are performing across three key categories:

  • Engagement, which can include enrollments, learning hours, course completion rates, and feedback;
  • Skills proficiency, including levels of subject mastery and learners’ progress and development over time; and
  • Agency outcomes, such as the impact of the program on innovation, growth, cost reduction, performance, diversity, and talent retention or acquisition.

Measuring these different criteria can help learning program owners fine-tune their programs for maximum impact, and can also build a compelling story of success. In 2020, the Philippines Department of Science and Technology (DOST) offered courses to employees in emerging technologies such as AI, ML, and the internet of things (IoT). It reported that 45% of learners earned a promotion after completing the courses, and 75% said it improved the quality of their work.

Get started with driving data literacy in the public sector

When people talk about their anxiety toward digital technologies, they are often not responding to the tools themselves, but to a future they fear does not leave room for them. By offering the right training and support, leaders can instead reframe this as an opportunity.

Data-driven organizations can work more efficiently and effectively, discover bottlenecks in processes and delivery, and identify modern, innovative, and substantiated solutions. And the employees that drive this change can find their career development prospects are transformed.

To learn more about how to build successful data literacy programs, download the Driving Data Literacy in the Public Sector eBook.

 Find more resources for workforce development—including a guide for how to develop a digital-ready workforce—at the Workforce Development hub on AWS. Learn more about digital training from AWS experts at the Training and Certification hub.

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Kevin Mills

Kevin Mills

Kevin Mills helps enable the leading governments around the world to up-skill and re-skill their workforces. At Coursera, Kevin has led the teams responsible for building strategic partnerships with the world’s most innovative universities, companies, and governments to help further Coursera’s mission to provide quality education and training to everyone, everywhere. Previously Kevin has held roles in government, university administration, and at international law firms focusing on education law and policy. He holds a BA from Pepperdine University, and JD/MBA from Stanford University.