graduation cap in the air against a blue sky
PHOTO: JodyHongFilms

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” — Kofi Anan

I am often asked by my clients to comment on the quality or impact of digital literacy within their organizations. Digital literacy, or what is at times called digital IQ, has as many definitions as there are criteria upon which it can be evaluated. The American Library Association (ALA) defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” I use that definition to ground this discussion because librarians and information specialists are the most proficient at defining what digital literacy is in a world where information is tucked away online on shared drives and folders upon folders in corporate systems, in libraries and archives, the dark web and beyond. Modern business is replete with apps and online tools promoting collaboration and sharing of information at a speed which is often incredible to appreciate.

But just because we have the power these technologies provide us, doesn't mean we know what we are doing, how to do it, and most importantly, why. One’s digital IQ and literacy is not just knowing how to use the technology available to us, but having the analog and soft skills of human interaction with digital. Technology is a human endeavor, and our ability or inability to work with technology is on us to solve. If you can’t collaborate and work well with people, you will suck at whatever you are trying to do with technology. Be human first.

Face the Facts: It's a Combination of Digital and Analog

“We are looking at a society increasingly dependent on machines, yet decreasingly capable of making or even using them effectively.” — Douglas Rushkoff

People with a high digital IQ have the ability to discern, distinguish, evaluate and identify information quality, especially given the current volume of content available. Search within the enterprise or modern business environment is more than the false joy of securing search results on page 1, but the knowledge that by going deeper, to pages 2 and 3, you may find better results. This is not a game of speed, but accuracy and intent. Slow and steady always wins, and there are no winners when one moves too fast with technology.

One of the major issues with the current conundrum of “fake news” in society is that it is false, with conjecture, and absent of any authenticity. The issue with literacy here is that many people are unable to discern not just true and false, but more importantly with fake news, the real and unreal. If it looks good, looks right, then it may well be right. More than ever, now is the time to discern what information is useful. Strong digital literacy includes:

  • The ability to engage with media, to read and interpret, upload and download, with text, images and audio.
  • The ability to interact with this media to create first an understanding, and then meaning.
  • The ability to communicate and distribute this understanding to an audience with technology.

Your digital IQ is about your capabilities with technology, but also the discernment of understanding when and why to use it to interact with other people.

Related Article: 4 Key Elements of an Impactful Digital Literacy Program

Improve Your Digital IQ, Improve Trust

Technology succeeds when it is used to transform data into information and then information into insights that can generate action and meaning. Proper use of technology is key to building mutual trust among community members: it encourages knowledge-sharing and collaborative opportunities, lowers transaction costs, resolves conflicts, and creates greater coherence. Trust sets expectations for positive future interactions. Communicating the meaning and purpose of why a technology tool is being used will build trust with its audience and impact positive experiences. Trust in technology and the data flowing through its pipes will lead to greater participation, which will increase information’s value and utility.

Technology is a tool to help individuals, teams and organizations achieve specific goals. Understanding the needs of users — what goals they are trying to achieve — and showing transparency in the technology, the people and the process will improve the experience and start the path to building trust. The digital experience will be defined by the ability of people to identify, discover and experience an organization’s brand just as the organization has intended.

Integrity of information means it can be trusted as authentic and current by establishing rules around originality and custodianship, or document ownership. In a modern business environment current, relevant and authorized metadata is key to effectively manage a company’s knowledge and help construct literacy within an organization. Metadata is supported by technology, people and process, and helps us find the facts we need for our work. Governance is the structure around how organizations manage content creation, use and distribution and is a critical part in developing trust. Ultimately, governance is the structure enabling content stewardship, beginning with metadata and workflow strategy, policy development, and more, and technology solutions to serve the creation, use, and distribution of content. Content does not emerge fully formed into the world. It is a product of people working with technology in the execution of a process … the transparency needed for success, and integral to your digital IQ.

Related Article: Customer Trust: Are We Experiencing an Existential Crisis?

Be an Advocate for Digital Literacy

Be mindful of the people, processes and technologies that may influence our daily work. Digital literacy and digital IQ come down to knowing when and why to use technology, and how to use it as we interact with our fellow workers, and ultimately our customers. It is neither all digital or all analog, nor is it one being better than the other, but instead it is being selective in your approach to solving problems. 

For digital literacy to grow and flourish, organizations need internal advocates to promote such efforts. Who will start this initiative? Where will that leadership happen, and what will push this from idea to action? We must all be advocates for digital literacy. Because technology is a human endeavor, and our ability or inability to work with technology is on us to solve. That’s a smart thing to do.