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An Introduction to Data Citizenship and Literacy: The Necessary Vehicles in Today’s Digital Age 

Updated: Aug 30, 2023


Introduction:

It can be argued that today’s Zeitgeist is characterized by an increasing sense of global interconnectedness. Due to the ready use of technology, millions around the world are exposed to a wealth of information that may play a large influence on their perceptions, thoughts, and experiences. To make sense of this rich stream of information, it is important to learn about data citizenship and data literacy in order to make informed decisions in this digital age.

In this piece, we aim to introduce the concepts of data citizenship and data literacy. These concepts will then be related to practical applications, such as how we can create more engagement through data citizenship and how students can utilize it for their future careers.


What is data citizenship and data literacy?

According to Carmi et al. (2020), data citizenship is a theoretical framework that allows individuals, or data citizens, to critically use information as a way to meaningfully contribute to communities. When considering the prevalence of digital data today, data citizenship is what enables us to explore the relationships between data, power, and contextuality (Carmi et al., 2020). This requires one to ask critical questions about the information they are engaging with, such as:

  • How accurate is this data?

  • How can this data be represented and used in an effective way?

  • Does this data favor/primarily represent a certain perspective? (Carmi et al., 2020; Cowell, 2021; Miller, 2019)

When data citizens critically assess data using the questions listed above (among others), they are utilizing data literacy. While data literacy has many definitions, Calzada Prado and Marzal (2013, as cited in Tibor, 2015) describe it as the vehicle that enables individuals to “access, interpret, critically assess, manage, handle, and ethically use data” (p. 403). Therefore, it could be argued that data citizenship requires the skills of data literacy.


How do we create more engagement in taking control of our data?

The cool thing about data is that the possibilities of using it - representing it, telling stories with it, and deriving meanings from it - are endless. However, this requires two important things: the tools to work with data, and the knowledge to understand it. It is through our tools and knowledge that enable us to take control of data. Furthermore, it is through our tools that we get audiences engaged with our findings.


What does ‘tools’ include? The most common data-handling tools one may think of would be Microsoft Excel or statistical programs such as SPSS. These tools allow us to sort data into tables and represent them using different graphs and charts. However, as technology continues to develop, people are beginning to demonstrate greater creativity and innovation in presenting data (Ross-Hellauer et al., 2020). For example, we now see TED Talks, science comics, and adoption of social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) and academic social networking sites (e.g. ResearchGate) as ways to engage large audiences with data (Ross-Hellauer et al., 2020). There have even been plays based on data findings, such as The Great Immensity, which addressed the intricacies of climate change through data on gravitational waves (Ross-Hellauer et al., 2020).


While the use of data-handling tools serves as a vehicle towards facilitating engagement in one’s control of data, knowledge is crucial to properly utilize these tools. Thankfully, this knowledge can be acquired through the student context.


What does data citizenship mean from the student context?


Regardless of the field one aspires to pursue as a student, it’s safe to say that virtually every job title involves data and would benefit from data citizenship (Cowell, 2021). Data has become an important component in our society due to its usefulness in guiding individuals toward unbiased, robust decisions (Miller, 2019). Since data citizenship and data literacy plays such a crucial role in the inner workings of businesses, scientific research, politics, and society as a whole, it’s important that students are exposed to these foundational concepts during their academic careers (Gooch et al., 2016).


Luckily, students are indeed exposed to data citizenship and data literacy in their schooling to some extent. Although it may not be explicitly mentioned when children learn how to count or when teenagers learn of in-class controlled experiments, these lessons mark the development of their data literacy skills.


In post-secondary education, data literacy skills become more developed through student research and statistics courses. According to Bowen & Bartley (2014, as cited in Fontichiaro & Oehrli, 2016), data literacy (and hence, data citizenship) are important in the student context because data is used to “argue and persuade people to, among other things, vote for political agendas [...] or lease a car” (p. 22). Due to the widespread applications of data, students will be well-equipped for many encounters (one being the many statistics found in news articles, advertisements, and social media posts), granting them the power to ask informed questions and make informed decisions (Fontichiaro & Oehrli, 2016).


Conclusion


Acquiring data citizenship, the ability to use information in a critical and informed manner through exercising skills in data literacy, is crucial to navigating today’s world. Data citizenship has important implications on how we can call others to engage with data as well as how we can ensure the success of students.


It is no debate that society continues to evolve and develop new ways of thinking, communicating, and knowing. Among these innovative ways is the reliance on data to make informed evaluations and decisions of the world around us. As data continues to flourish and dominate the media, government, and education system, among other things, it would be beneficial for everyone to assume the role of a student by learning about data literacy and practicing data citizenship.


Further Questions:

  1. How can data citizenship and data literacy be promoted outside of formal education settings?

  2. How can you accurately assess one’s data literacy skills? How can you assess whether one has acquired data citizenship?

  3. How do you demonstrate data citizenship and data literacy in your everyday life?

Resources:

  1. Carmi, E., Yates, S. J., Lockley, E., & Pawluczuk, A. (2020). Data citizenship: rethinking data literacy in the age of disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation. Internet Policy Review, 9(2). https://doi.org/10.14763/2020.2.1481.

  2. Cowell, M. (2021). 10 data literacy skills to become a data citizen. QuantHub. https://www.quanthub.com/dataliteracyskills/.

  3. Fontichiaro, K. & Oehrli, J. A. (2016). Why data literacy matters. Knowledge Quest, 44(5), 21-27. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1099487.pdf.

  4. Gooch, D., Cavero Montaner, J. J., Rashid, U., & Kortuem, G. (2016). Creating an understanding of data literacy for a data-driven society. The Journal of Community Informatics, 12(3), 9-26. https://doi.org/10.15353/joci.v12i3.3275.

  5. Koltay, T. (2015). Data literacy: In search of a name and identity. Journal of Documentation, 71(2), 401-415. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-02-2014-0026.

  6. Miller, K. (2019, August 22). Data-driven decision making: A primer for beginners. Northeastern University Graduate Programs. https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/data-driven-decision-making/.

  7. O’Brien, T. (2021, June 17). Creating ‘data citizens’ for data-driven culture inside and outside the office. SiliconAngle. https://siliconangle.com/2021/06/17/creating-data-citizens-data-driven-culture-inside-outside-office-datacitizens21/.

  8. Ross-Hellauer, T., Tennant, J. P., Banelyte, V., Gorogh, E., Luzi, D., Kraker, P., Pisacane, L., Ruggieri, R., Sifacaki, E., & Vignoli, M. (2020). Ten simple rules for innovative dissemination of research. PLoS Comput Biol, 16(4): e1007704. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007704.

Author:


Jenalyn is a third year Psychology major leaning towards a career in social psychology. With a current GPA of 3.98, Jenalyn has consistently been placed on the Dean’s List and President’s Honour Roll. She has won multiple scholarships and awards including the President’s Scholarship, the Jason Lang Scholarship, and the Swami Vivekananda Scholarship. In addition to her studies, Jenalyn enjoys putting extra time and effort towards volunteering in the community. Currently, she works with faculty members as a student representative in the Psychology EDI Committee and helps encourage strong learning skills in fellow Psychology students with her work in the Peer Learning Program.

Family holds great importance to Jenalyn. As a second-generation immigrant, she has been grateful to be working as a research assistant at The Immigrant Education Society (TIES). Along with her contributions in strengthening Calgary’s immigrant-serving sector, Jenalyn hopes to use her knowledge and experience at TIES to fly in and support her family in the Philippines.


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