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Health Care, Data Literacy and the Industrial Revolution

PART 1 of a 3-PART SERIES

Creating a Data-Driven Culture through Data Literacy

In this three-part series, Debbie Ferguson, Senior Consultant for Philanthropy Operations and Data, explains data literacy, explores its importance for health care and provides tangible ways to increase data literacy within health care organizations.


What images does the Industrial Revolution bring to mind? Perhaps you envision billowing smokestacks on top of 18th century factories and poorly cared for workers laboring under intense heat and physical exhaustion. Maybe the atrocities from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle come to mind. The Industrial Revolution, however, is constructed of four major phases, and the fourth phase is still ongoing:

  • The first phase was powered by mechanization of production and steam power,

  • The second phase was advanced by electricity and the assembly line production process which enabled products to be mass produced with consistent quality,

  • The third phase was accelerated by computer systems and electronics including automated production processes and robotics,

  • The fourth phase was birthed in cyberspace, and data was characterized by the application of information and communication technologies known as “Industry 4.0.”¹

Over the last 200 years, the health care industry has been forced to adapt to technological advances and new methodologies of conducting business. Perhaps not surprisingly, the success of the fourth and current phase of the Industrial Revolution hinges on data literacy. Data literacy is essential for health care employees to know how to work with data and have a clear understanding of what data communicates.


Data literacy is the ability to read, understand, analyze and communicate information. Data literacy helps health care foundation leaders make more informed decisions based on meaningful and actionable data visualizations, which in turn helps prioritize opportunities and improve team performance. Data literacy also empowers gift officers to optimize their time and donor relationships by increasing their transparency and accountability. The more competent the data literacy, the better results an organization can expect.²


Data literacy is the ability to read, understand, analyze and communicate information.

Several key benefits to data literacy include:

  • Improved decision-making. Data literacy helps health care leaders, team members and organizations strengthen strategic decisions by providing them with the ability to understand and analyze data. When health care foundations can quickly identify trends and gaps in fund development and production data, they can more rapidly identify possible solutions to shift philanthropy plans.

  • Increased productivity. Data literacy increases the capacity to better analyze and visualize data, which in turn can influence performance. For instance, improved data literacy and visual optimization of gift officer portfolios can improve gift officer efficiency, as well as potentially increase dollars raised and decrease gift officer burnout.

  • Increased innovation. Through data literacy, health care foundations can embrace new ideas for longstanding challenges. By fostering innovation, foundation leaders can be first in line for new opportunities and technologies.

  • Enhanced communication. Understanding data enables health care leaders and team members to communicate complex data analysis clearly and concisely, thus improving collaboration. This can also foster new ideas for demonstrating donor impact in stewardship reports and enhance campaign updates.³

Data literacy is an organization-wide effort. To create a more data-driven culture, the entire organization must build a stronger data governance posture and adherence to data consistency and accuracy. Data literacy must span beyond the operations team and the tech experts; everyone at the foundation must develop strong data literacy skills to meet organization goals, and there must be an organization-level commitment that offers all employees data literacy training courses and other resources for support.


Data literacy must span beyond the operations team and the tech experts; everyone at the foundation must develop strong data literacy skills to meet organization goals, and there must be an organization-level commitment that offers all employees data literacy training courses and other resources for support.

Boosting data literacy doesn’t happen overnight—it takes consistent and gradual efforts to create a data-centric organizational culture. Campaign and operations-focused consultants are beginning to help foundations create data literacy through data-focused webinars, workshops and coaching. This approach can be an ideal way to initially boost data literacy.⁴

Right now, there is a paradigm shift in data utilization and creating a data-centric organizational culture. For-profit organizations are at the forefront of finding new ways of storing, organizing, managing and analyzing data. Nonprofits must not continue to lag. Progressive leaders understand investing in data literacy increases the value of their team and organization. Since data itself has become an asset, data literacy geared toward making informed business decisions has become critical. Ultimately, the goal of data literacy is to provide health care foundations with a data-driven decision-making framework that positions them for success in today’s rapidly changing technological environment.



Accordant White Paper_Data Literacy Part 1
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About the Author: Debbie Ferguson, CFRE, is a Senior Consultant for Philanthropy Operations and Data with Accordant. She specializes in best practices for data solutions, integration and governance as well as patient program evaluation, creation and development. She can be reached at Debbie@AccordantHealth.com or through LinkedIn.


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The Accordant Team has published a number of books to advance the efforts of health care philanthropy and help development leaders everywhere. 

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Accordant is honored to collaborate with American Hospital Association Trustee Services to provide issue papers, templates and webinars to support the involvement of healthcare trustees and foundation board members in advancing philanthropy. These resources can also be found on the AHA Trustee website.

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