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Innovate on Demand, Episode 20: Data Literacy (DDN3-P01)


In this episode of the Innovate on Demand podcast, host Natalie Crandall speaks with Mackenzie Kitchen, analyst with the CSPS Digital Academy, about how to map data literacy within the public service and how organizations can analyze their data competencies to further their data readiness and maturity.

Duration: 00:24:33
Published: March 3, 2021
Type: Podcast

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Innovate on Demand, Episode 20: Data Literacy

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Transcript: Innovate on Demand, Episode 20: Data Literacy

Todd Lyons
I'm Todd Lyons.
Natalie and Mackenzie
I'm Natalie Crandall. And I'm Mackenzie Kitchen.
Todd Lyons
And this is the Innovate on Demand podcast.
Natalie Crandall  00:14
Welcome, Mackenzie.
Mackenzie  00:15
Thank you. Great to be here.
Natalie Crandall  00:17
What brings you to thinking about doing an Innovate on Demand podcast with us today?
Mackenzie Kitchen  00:23
Well, I am immersed in the world of data and data literacy in the Government of Canada. And one of the things I'm working on is a foundational data course, which will probably be out by the time the podcast comes out. But also a data competency framework and working with some departments and agencies, on how to map data literacy, and think about how their organization can move from where they are now to a state of data readiness and data maturity.
Natalie Crandall  00:57
When you talk about a data literacy and mapping it, what I'm understanding, particularly in context of the competencies, is really understanding what the level of competency, of the employees within any organization, a team, a branch, a department.  This is, to me, this is a really interesting thing. Because how do we bring that quickly? How do we raise the bar on a topic like that, very quickly, all you hear about is sort of this pressing need for everyone, every area of business, the federal government is involved in, every service we deliver to Canadians, where we feel like we actually need to better understand our data, we better need to use our data, we need to understand how we need to change and pivot. And how do we do all of that?  That's a very lofty thing you're working on.
Mackenzie Kitchen  01:57
Well, I can give you my perspective, and there's many in the Digital Academy we're working on it on a number of fronts, Foundations, which is aimed at all public servants, and especially the uninitiated.  If you're thinking about somebody who's maybe on the front line, or someone who doesn't ,the word data in their role doesn't resonate for them? Why should they care? We've had data since we've had computers, why do we care now. And the answer to that is the exponential increase in data, the Internet of Things, 5G, expectations of the public for service.  Making that case of why so foundations. Digital Academy also has Premium, that's targeted design, DevOps data, Machine Learning, AI - streams for practitioners to go through a three month intensive learning experience. And then we're also targeting leadership as well, recognizing that leadership is pivotal for the change that we're trying to   make.  There's that piece. And then there's Bus Rides, which is sort of bite sized learning for all public servants. The way that we're thinking about proficiency levels, data is so big, it's like, if you take a realm of study like science, you can go so many different directions. There are people who specialize just in data visualizations, there's people who specialize in machine learning and AI, there's different streams.  We're considering the you know, as an organization, enterprise level, the very many competencies that would be required for data maturity. And then looking at, you know, a Digital Academy can't do this work is up to departments and agencies to look at who they have in their data roles, to do some kind of organizational assessment to see what level of data literacy they have. And then to go through an exercise where they determine where they want to move to and Digital Academy is hopefully there to support them in that part of the journey. We're finding it really helpful to consider all of this because data is so big and so broad, to consider it in light of personas. Personas is another way of talking about different data roles within an organization.  Targeting executives and frontline and business policy analysts and data scientists, all of whom require a different proficiency level, and also who require different competencies.  When we have a competency framework, that right now has 21 competencies listed, of course, not everyone needs all those competencies, and not everybody needs a high level of proficiency and all of those competencies. Determining those learning paths and setting that out, to be able to start curating content, we're talking about foundations as great, we're really talking about mindsets and we're talking about the why. We're really targeting those courses to the uninitiated. If people who don't know why data is important in our context today, or how it's changing how we work, but then where do they go from there, what's the 200 level course and the 300 level course, the bridge between foundation and premium or equivalent content.  Thinking about those kinds of things, and for those various different roles and streams,  we're really trying to leverage what's happening in the Government of Canada, the best we can, there's a lot of departments and agencies that are thinking about this. There's some very bright minds at work and some amazing products that people are coming out with.  We're hoping to bring that all together and curate it and make it something that's accessible, and then consider, the various different personas and proficiency levels that that we have to create.
Natalie Crandall  06:00
Can you maybe dive down into one persona and give us sort of an idea of a specific competency or skill to a group and how you might think that one through? As you say, those uninitiated, I think people have a huge amount of understanding around data and digital at that foundational level, but they might not use that terminology and that terminology might actually be kind of like the word innovate, right?
Mackenzie Kitchen  06:28
Yes, the lexicons a big blocker. We have so many conversations about what words mean, in this particular context. One that comes to mind is certainly manager or executive, and I don't use those interchangeably. There's conversation happening around what exactly that persona should be, these are all very fluid at the moment. And the other thing is, is whatever personas are landed on, they're not one size fits all, it's like 80% solution, 80% of the time, and departments and agencies are going to have to work around the edges and develop their own. But that's an interesting one, because they're a consumer of data analytics products, whether they're visualizations, dashboards, reports, they can also have a data stewardship role.  They may be, I don't like this word, but a data owner, where they actually the decision maker to grant access to a certain data set or to make a data set open.  There's a stewardship role. They're a decision maker,  they're taking decisions based on the data that they're receiving. And then they may also have a part to play in data collection, if they want to assess that input and collect data and see what effect it's having. There may be a governance sort of piece, a role that they play, they may manage data, personnel who have a data specialty.  There's it's a persona that, then this is sort of some of the debate around personas, it's like, well, should you make a persona a data steward and an analytics consumer.  Will an executive might be both of those things, an executive might be three different personas. Should we make the persona executive or should we make the personas these other things?  This is some of the debate, it gets complicated as you slice and dice it, it's very complex and it's very big. The way I see data literacy in my mind is almost like a three dimensional matrix. It's like I have personas as one way to access the matrix. I have proficiency levels as another way, I have competencies as another way and it's figuring that out from an organizational perspective, and then assessment, how do you assess? The only way we're thinking about that makes sense is to have in our environment, unionized environments, not like we can provide everybody with a standardized test. We have to ask people to self evaluate, and that has its own drawbacks.  It's an interesting process to figure that out.
Natalie Crandall  09:10
Definitely. It's a challenge, because it's a lot of the human centered skills and competencies that we need to actually promote.  There's a bit of a dichotomy there around constantly using those words around data and digital and innovation. What we actually talk about is let's sit down and think about this. Let's have a conversation. What does the person who, you know, needs to use this think about all of this? It's a different way of thinking.  You work at the Digital Academy, of course,  I know, by being in the same branch as the DA, that how we work has a huge impact on what we're able to accomplish in this space.
Mackenzie Kitchen  09:58
I think like any complex problem, it's not going to be a linear approach. I'm currently in the process of developing Discover Data, the foundational course on data for all public servants. And we're using an agile methodology, we're working in sprints, we have many partners, we've got a lot of people who are from the federal government community. We also have municipal government, provincial, and we also have a stakeholder, UK government as well. There's a lot of voices added managing those various different partners in a lot of different ways, content design, getting feedback, running pilots, etc. We're trying to work quickly and build a prototype and get it out.  That's one of the things you know, we know from our digital standards, building a prototype, building a wireframe, getting it out, getting feedback and actually we're, we're delivering a prototype of it this afternoon [2020 Government of Canada Data Conference], and getting feedback from this community, recognizing this is a community of subject matter experts. We work using collaborative software, we're building the entire course in Trello, everything's on slack.
Natalie Crandall  11:12
That's amazing, though, that you get to come to the Data Conference, and have a bunch of subject matter experts actually feed into your Discover Data course.
Mackenzie Kitchen  11:21
And that's the name of the game. I mean, we can't do this alone, it the old methodology of, we're going to build it in total isolation and then when it's perfect, and it has a bow on it, kick it out into the community, that doesn't work.  We think we all recognize that and everybody is, you know, we've got StatCan as a major partner, we've got Defense as a major partner, there's partners who are already doing, they're done a lot of thinking, they have a lot of expertise to bring to the table, it doesn't make sense for us to try and have that expertise or not leverage what we have.   The Fellows as well, the Canada School of Public Service Fellows where we'll be using them as well.
Natalie Crandall  11:59
Very interesting.  I personally am always fascinated by anything where we start actually talking about generating some data on what I consider to be my favorite topic and the federal public service, which is our human resources.  Similar to you who's working on your you're on the competencies of the digital competencies, I've been working on a skills inventory for employees as well. And I'm really excited because I feel like that piece of sort of starting to understand our workforce and starting to be able to understand the skill sets of our workforce and how we can move those and develop them and how we do all of that. That to me is like that first layer of data that we need to embrace and gather that data and learn how to use it and learn how to make sense of it.  So we can do the rest of everything we need to do in government.
Mackenzie Kitchen  12:55
Yes, Ian Shugart said 'we are behind, I can't prove it and I can't tell you how far behind we are, but I think we're behind'. I think in in the use of our HR data, that's where, to me that is a glaring area where we are behind.  Reading up about what other companies are doing Google and Apple and things and how they manage their human resource data. It's incredible what can be done, if we can have some kind of database that allows us to manage our human resources. And given that we're, you know, whatever we are 250,000 [employees in the Federal Government] that we that we could actually tap into our talent that we could move our talent around more effectively, that we could create better pathways for people to advance their careers. I remember when the Digital Academy was stood up, and I thought, finally the answer to my prayers as a learning coordinator in Vancouver to be able to deliver some of this content to people.  Never did it cross my mind I'd ever get to work there. Now I'm working for Digital Academy from home. This also opens up this new way of working it that we can have virtual teams, we can have the right talent working, it doesn't matter where in the country they work, there's a lot of possibilities that are really exciting to me, that's actually I don't work in that area but I keep my eye on it because I am fascinated by the possibilities in terms of that.
Natalie Crandall  14:25
I just see it as such an enablement for everything else that we're really trying to do you know.
Mackenzie Kitchen  14:31
Everything, and even if you're talking about data science, that we could manage our inventory of data science specialists, we can manage our data people, which are difficult to recruit, difficult to retain. We can't compete with private sector salaries, etc.
Natalie Crandall  14:48
I think a part of that too, is the part of that equation that's also changing is we're starting to have really valuable, interesting and high impact work available in the federal government in those spheres and I think that's going to go a long way towards attracting and retaining some of that talent.
Mackenzie Kitchen  15:07
Agreed, that seems to be the new pitch right as like we can't give you the money and we can't give you know, on site child daycare and gyms and massages, but you have a chance to really make a difference.
Natalie Crandall  15:19
You could change the quality of life for Canadians. That's, amazing and that's frankly, kind of why we all go to work every day.
Mackenzie Kitchen  15:28
That's why I go to work.
Natalie Crandall  15:31
Is this your first time at the DA in working in that sort of environment where you know, you have the ability to telework, you are in a fully virtual and distributed team, I happen to know that our ADM is a huge proponent of flattened hierarchies and giving employees as much autonomy as he can.
Mackenzie Kitchen  15:54
This is my own personal journey with transformation and moving to digital is something that I talk about when I deliver, like an associate faculty for Discover Digital, for example. And in the last year, I have gone from an incredibly hierarchical like we had, you know, every classification level, and you're kind of like it had to go to your boss, and then your boss's boss, you know, and it took so long to get anything done. Systems developed for a reason, and I understand that, but I have gone from that to fully virtual working from home, flattened organization, I don't need to ask, I don't think I asked for permission to be here today, you know, like, it's quite extraordinary. I am not sure I can even quite put into words, the profound effect, it's been incredibly challenging, but also so liberating, it's like, I am so engaged. And I was a bit disconnected before because it was really, really hard to affect any kind of change. Now, if I have an idea, I have to pitch it, for sure. It's not like I can just go and do what I want. But if I pitch it, and I can get that support, I can go and do it. It's extraordinary. It's an extraordinary way of working. I recognize not every I mean, I come from an operational background. Obviously, not every environment lends itself to that work. But I think a lot more do than work that way, if that makes sense.  I'm really keen to talk about that and to see how that that way of working can benefit others.
Natalie Crandall  17:34
I found it was really, like you, it had a profound impact on my understanding of what a digital journey and transformation is. And it really brought me back to my change management lens to say like, actually, that's right. I mean, there's there is the technical side of a digital transformation but the other side of it is 100%, of change management side. It's when we realize, you know, there's like the whole concept of organizational change. There isn't a tipping point for an organization to change an organization isn't a sentient being. But every single individual within that organization has that capacity to change. And then there becomes a critical mass where, you know, it feels like organizational change, it feels like culture change, when enough people have embraced that change. 
Mackenzie Kitchen  18:25
That it starts to become the new way, just the way we do things. It's interesting. So I try and talk about my own personal journey with that in the context of that larger change that needs to happen.
Natalie Crandall  18:36
It's a powerful experience. And it's, like you said, it is a bit terrifying, because there are times where, you know, when you have a flattened hierarchy, and when you have so much autonomy to drive, the things that you're doing, you also have a huge amount of accountability and responsibility. Because, you know, all of a sudden, you realize, oh, in that hierarchical environment, you know, if this really goes badly, well, my boss is going to have to take the hit for having authorized this. I feel like there's a whole different set of leavers that we now have access to, that we never had before. How do you actually engage other departments to partner with you and do things in this kind of an environment and  I found it really invigorating and engaging as well.
Mackenzie Kitchen  19:28
It's really invigorating, all of a sudden, it's like, I have the first part of my career and then it was almost like a line in the sand when I started to work for ESDC Chief Data office. That's when I became fully virtual and really started to work in agile way. And now it's like, what I'm hoping is the rest of my career where I really feel like yeah, a real greater sense of freedom and autonomy and the space to try things. And that's another thing, like that's a key piece of this is spending time thinking about how do we help move this change forward? What's my part in that, because it's a small part. It's a huge organization. What's my small part? How can I be most effective, and those ideas kind of come quietly and then having the ability to actually try it.  And if it doesn't work, I can course correct and part of one of the most profound pieces of this journey for me has been to be able to stand up in front of a room and say, this is a total prototype, this is a wireframe, this is the inside of my mind on a piece of paper and now here, take it and I want you to tear it apart, and I want you to make it better. Because at the end of the day, I need this to be better than just the inside of my mind. I'm one person, I need a diverse perspective, I need this to work for the people I'm designing it for. And I mean, my case, it's training but whatever it is.  The first time I did it, to stand up in front of a room and I took away all the pretty pictures, and I took away all the fluff and what I put in front of them was so rough and so raw and I don't know if I can actually do this. I want my work to be pretty, I want it to be polished, I want it to be professional, that's what I've been taught my whole career, right? And to put it in front of them and say, Okay, now go to town. That's a very different way of working, it makes me feel very vulnerable. But it's also so freeing. Like, let's come up with something awesome and we're going to do it together.  I love that.
Natalie Crandall  21:43
That's amazing. My line in the sand was when I became a free agent. But I always find it fascinating that it was like a switch on a dime, right? Someone said to me, 'You are now autonomous' and I took it and ran with it.  In hindsight, was causing me grief right now is like, I want to unpack all those years before where I had this sensation that I had no autonomy when it kind of was a little bit there for the taking.
Mackenzie Kitchen  22:10
I think it's there for the taking if you have someone providing you air cover.
Natalie Crandall  22:14
That is always true. Yeah.
Mackenzie Kitchen  22:16
I know there's people who are trying to break out and it's not happening, because there's no air cover.
Natalie Crandall  22:24
And the system can be pretty stifling. It can it can be really stifling.
Mackenzie Kitchen  22:29
I think for me, the lesson in hindsight has been, find the air cover wherever that is and it's more about even like, for me, making the step, I realize it's more about the people like find an amazing team that will give you that autonomy, develop that way of working, and then the passion projects can start to come.  That's how it's worked for me, I don't know if that works for others. There's a mix in the public service. There's people who are still very, very invested in the hierarchical way of doing things and don't go outside of that.
Natalie Crandall  23:09
Well, like the rest of the world. It takes all kinds to make it go around.
Mackenzie Kitchen  23:15
It sure does. I don't say any of that with any kind of negative bias because I come from an operational environment. There's not a lot of room for these conversations and when I go and talk to operational people about that, they're kind of like, okay, there's all these, it's like a little bit pie in the sky, like you don't really understand our reality. So we're trying to take that, and I'm grateful, I think that's part of what I bring to the table is a regional perspective and an operational perspective that I want to design for those people who are not going to necessarily get a chance to take a day off the front counter to come and engage in these kinds of discussions that we're lucky to have.
Natalie Crandall  24:02
Thank you very much.
Todd Lyons
You've been listening to Innovate on Demand brought to you by the Canada School of Public Service.
I'm Todd Lyons, producer of this series. Thank you for listening.
Transcribed by

Todd Lyons
Canada School of Public Service

Natalie Crandall
Project Lead, Human Resources Business Intelligence
Canada School of Public Service

Mackenzie Kitchen
Analyst, Digital Academy
Canada School of Public Service

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