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Data literacy – a ‘must-have’ in the data powered future

Paul Malyon, Head of Thought Leadership & Data Literacy, Experian


For Experian, data literacy is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s one of the reasons we exist.

For Experian, data literacy is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s one of the reasons we exist.

For more than 100 years, we have been using the power of data to transform lives, businesses and economies for the better. Taking what was often viewed as ‘exhaust’ from transactions and turning that into insight for better decision making has been central to our evolution. Over the years, this basic premise has grown in scale – both in terms of geographies and the depth and breadth of the data we use. As this growth has continued, so has our need for new technologies, processes and skilled people to harness the opportunities that data offers. 

As a trusted partner of thousands of businesses and millions of individuals worldwide, we work to make what is often complex data as simple as possible to take some of the stress away from those important decisions which can make a business or change a life. 

Whether it be moving home, protecting your identity, buying your first car, going to college, starting a business or deciding who to do business with; our products and services use large, complex datasets to make decisions quick, simple and informed. 

We’ve also worked hard around the world to help people and businesses understand how their financial past can influence their futures and get access to the financial services they need. Whether this be through TV adverts, pocket money apps for kids or teaching resources for schools we continually invest to help everyone make data informed decisions. 

Why data literacy goes hand in hand with our mission

The Data Literacy project enables Experian to amplify the message of using data to benefit everyone, to move beyond financial literacy to true data literacy.

For example, whilst understanding and improving your credit score is a really important part of buying a home, it’s also critical to be able understand more about that home and its location before sinking your life savings and most of your salary into it. 

Most of the factors we consider when buying a home come from data – commute time to work, nearest hospital, performance of local schools, crime rates, probable utility costs, planning history and so on. Some of this data is easy to get to thanks to open data initiatives and the rise of online property portals but some of it requires individuals to know where to look or who to ask. 

Data Literacy in this example is the ability to go beyond the basics on a property listing and seek out the crime data, look beyond the high level OFSTED school rating, check out the opinions of the local hospital and see if there is any capacity in the local GP surgery. It’s about being curious, not accepting the bare minimum level of information. It’s about taking that extra step to learn more. 

To use a personal example (and note that I’m a bit of a geek), when my family recently moved home I obtained data on all the local schools and worked it into a spreadsheet to compare OFSTED ratings, SATS results, 11+ results, application numbers vs places and the destination of primary pupils (i.e. which secondary school did they go to). 

Some of this was easy to get hold of from property portals but I also had to visit the Dept of Education website, contact the local authority and ring round individual schools to get data. Obviously, it would be good if all this data were open and in one place but whilst that’s being worked upon, it’s important for me as an individual to have the knowledge and confidence to go and get that data. 

Shaping skills for the data powered future 

The Data Literacy Project aims to make us all more confident. To be able to know where to get the information we need, who to ask about it and then how to use it to help us make decisions. With three simple aims, we hope to make data more accessible and useful for everyone.

  1. We will have encouraged the world’s leading organizations to provide data literacy training.
  2. We’ll have created the world’s most extensive library of resource-based learning for data literacy.
  3. We’ll have supported global educational institutions to place data literacy into the curriculum.


For Experian, this aligns with our belief in the data powered future. If everyone is to benefit then individuals and businesses need to learn more about how they can make use of their own data, how to get the data that helps them make decisions about their futures and of course how they can pass on those skills to the next generation. 

In a data literate world, we should all be able to get hold of the data we need in order to decide where to live or work. We should be able to understand official statistics, question the potential biases and make educated decisions using simple tools and techniques. Just as we use numeracy to decide what products offer the best value, we should use data literacy to make more complex, important decisions. 

Experian are supporting the Data Literacy Project to help meet those aims. I am a member of the advisory board and am committed to seeing data literacy taught in our schools. I’ve been lucky to work with and around technology, data and data people for many years and have picked up a few things along the way – I can only imagine what opportunities I’d have had if I had enjoyed a formal education in data. I’m looking forward to my daughters enjoying that opportunity thanks to the Data Literacy Project.