Top tools and resources to help you start your data literacy journey

09 September 2021

In the first blog post of this series on data literacy, we discussed why data literacy is so important to a humanitarian or development organisation and, in particular, how it is a skill required by any humanitarian professional. Data skills are not limited to technical skills about how to use Excel or the most recent visualisation tool promoted by your IT department but cover a much broader range of skills. It can be challenging to know where to begin to hone your data literacy skills. 

Although there is a wide variety of approaches to strengthening data literacy, where some resources focus on specific data topics such as data collection or visualisation, some have art-based activities to help bring out a fun approach when learning how to work with data. Others focus on proposing pedagogic activities and tools for learners in an instructional setting, while others are role-based designed solely for team building for a particular type of learners. In this blog post, I will share tools and resources that you or the team can consult to start your data literacy journey.

All resources shared on this blog post have been designed with different approaches, are actively used by certain organisations within the sector, and can be adapted to meet your needs as you try to develop data literacy. I also found the shared resources quite comprehensive and accessible to learners, data literacy practitioners and organisations trying to create a data culture.

A special credit to Heather Leson, the Digital Innovation Lead at IFRC and Dirk Slate the founder of FabRiders for co-initiating the Data Literacy Consortium and convening data literacy practitioners through monthly networking meetings, experience sharing sessions and lessons learned across organisations when implementing data literacy programmes. I came across most of these resources by being part of these meetings!

Here are the key resources I recommend to help you or your team kick off your data literacy journey!

#1 The Data Playbook

The IFRC Data Playbook Beta Toolkit is a collection of social learning exercises aimed at deepening the understanding of data literacy in the humanitarian sector. This first beta edition combines social learning and human centered design, clearly highlighting best practices, how to’s, training materials and resources to cater for the diverse audiences in the humanitarian sector.

The content is divided in nine modules and provides recipes to help organizations develop their own data activities on how to get started with data, build data driven projects, data sharing, data responsibility and how organisations can address data quality issues. While the content is tailored to audiences of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, it can be tailored to any organisation. It is an invaluable toolkit for any humanitarian and development organisation wishing to launch its data literacy program. Stay tuned for version 1 coming out soon!

Illustration of the various types of content found in each of the 9 modules of the Data Playbook, co-curated by Heather Leson (IFRC) and Dirk Slater (Fabriders)

#2 The School of Data

The School of Data is an international network of 101 active individuals and 13 organisations promoting data literacy, effective use of data and bridging the skill gap in civil societies. The organisation has adopted the trainers of trainers’ model through their nine-month fellowships programme, where data-literacy practitioners develop capacity on data literacy and how to train others. They also have short-term projects related to data literacy curriculum development, research and methodologies development.

Finally, they offer both online courses and offline training for individuals and organisations. You can also listen to their Data is a Team Sport podcast series, which engages data literacy practitioners to capture and share lessons learned across  the diverse data literacy ecosystem.

#3 The Open Data Institute (ODI)

Founded in London in 2012, The Open Data Institute (ODI) offers training courses for businesses, governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on creation, publication and use of data. In 2021, the ODI initiated a new data literacy programme which is open to everyone interested in developing their data literacy skills. The courses range from free eLearning basic data essentials, data ethics professional certifications to training for senior executives courses. Data literacy for leaders' courses are now available, where senior management from various organisations can upskill and learn to support their staff and put in place thriving data infrastructure.

#4 DataBasic is an online learning platform created by Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D’Ignazio, previously data literacy researchers and facilitators at the now-closed MIT Center for Civic Media, and nowadays focused on building the field of Data Feminism for Catherine D'Ignazio and exploring the civic impacts of data storytelling and visualisation for Rahul Bhargava. As educators, they bring out learners' perspectives providing free online tools for beginners to be introduced to concepts working with data. These easy-to-use web tools and activities have been developed with an art’s based approach making “learning data” fun for beginners and not daunting.

A data literacy programme can only be successful in a data driven-culture, their Data Culture project provides self-learning activities tailored to people of all levels and can help NGOs begin building their data culture.

Illustration from, they provide activities to run for each of the steps in the Data Process.

#5 The Centre for Humanitarian Data

Data literacy is one of the areas of focus for The Centre for Humanitarian Data. The Centre  clearly highlights a human centered approach to data literacy, organising workshops and developing resources based on the survey feedback with  humanitarian aid professionals. The Centre provides the following key training resources starting with a:

#6 The Mobile Data Collection (MDC) Toolkit

A good way to approach data literacy can be through the angle of the new tools used by organisations to support their data collection, processing, analysis or sharing. One example of this is the Mobile Data Collection (MDC) toolkit that you can find on this IM Resource Portal, that was developed by CartONG for Terre des hommes to support their field operations and more widely humanitarians and development actors that use MDC in their programming. There are many resources up there that are "tool-agnostic", available in both English and French. The MDC toolkit contains amongst other things:

  • Downloadable tutorials and training materials related to the five MDC phases, including preparing for MDC, survey design, field teams’ training, survey and data management and analysis. 
  • A data visualisation toolkit which provides practical guidance on designing data visualisation products.

CartONG will also be producing other toolkits in the coming months, on Excel, data analysis, and mapping and GIS, that can also be considered data literacy material.

#7 Data 101 Toolkit

Data 101 toolkit is an introductory series of four workshops designed for people looking to get started on their journey toward data literacy. The material can be used in workshops to help participants feel comfortable with the basic data concepts. As such, each workshop includes a wide range of activities to build around paper-based activities related to:

Furthemore, a detailed workshop structure (in Google Drive) is included with an agenda, slide decks, activities and logistics that a workshop facilitator can tailor for a particular audience.

#8 Oxfam’s Responsible Data Management Toolkit

Oxfam’s Responsible Data Management Toolkit is a training package that highlights the responsibility of humanitarian actors in the safe and responsible management of programme data. This training pack is available in English, French and Spanish and has activities that can be used in a full-day training session. It has instructional powerpoints,  booklets, activity blank online or printable cards and infographics that trainers can adapt on the following key aspects:

  • Basic principles on responsible data management,
  • Planning processes that can be used with a detailed matrix,
  • Responsible data lifecycle,
  • How to handle unexpected issues that arise in different contexts (single or double-sided cards of What would you do if…?).

This training package is short and easy to adapt because it includes editable versions that can be customised, downloaded and printed by trainers when necessary.

#9 European Data Portal (EDP)

The European Data Portal (EDP) is an online learning module which was developed by the Open Data Institute training team. Available in seven languages, this e-learning portal includes 17 self-paced modules ranging from basic concepts of open data, data quality, data formats to advanced topics such as open linked data and data cleaning.

Each module consists of short videos of less than 4 minutes and brief slides that make learning engaging and easy to follow at one’s own pace.

The list shared in this blog post is not exhaustive however, I hope you will find something that will help you or your team in building confidence in your data literacy journey. Taking time to go through them should help you identify what fits your needs. Stay tuned for the next upcoming blog post of this data literacy series!


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This project was funded by the French Development Agency (AFD). Nevertheless, the ideas and opinions presented on this post do not necessarily represent those of the AFD.