Above all else, Data Culture

Many thanks to the 1525 Northeastern University staff members (34% of all staff) who took the time to complete the university’s inaugural Data Maturity Assessment!  We are very grateful for your input and are putting it to good use as we plan and launch data literacy programming for staff at NU.

Data maturity is important because NU has a lot of data, and it generates and collects more each day.  We define data maturity as how ready and capable an organization like NU is to manage and use data to make informed decisions and achieve its goals. In other words, to what extent is NU able to put all that data to good use? Another thing is that it’s important to understand that organizations are data mature, not people.  We don’t call a person “data mature” or “not data mature.” Instead, data maturity is a collective measure of people’s perceptions of and experiences with data.  That’s why we invited all staff to complete the Data Maturity Assessment.

There are a lot of things that contribute to data maturity: the organizational culture toward data, the data governance in place, the data resources and tools available, people’s attitudes toward data, how they use data, etc.  However, it is not at all an understatement to say that data culture is the most important. Data culture refers to the collective practices, values, and beliefs in an organization that emphasize the importance and use of data for decision-making. It forms the foundation for all other aspects of data maturity. Without it, an organization is unlikely to have a high level of data maturity.  However, data culture is also one of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of data maturity to develop!

We are happy to report that the Data Maturity Assessment results indicate that the data culture at NU is strong and provides a solid foundation for other aspects of data maturity! For example, take a look at the percentages of respondents who reported that the following was often or almost always true at NU:

  • 83%: Data is regarded as an important tool for decision-making.
  • 80%: Employees are expected to use data in their roles.
  • 67%: People use data to validate their intuition and assumptions.
  • 56%: It is clear that NU leaders use data to inform their own decisions and actions.

In addition, 97% of the people who completed the Data Maturity Assessment agreed or strongly agreed that using data improves decision-making and drives positive change. Ninety-seven percent also expressed interest in using data to drive innovation and performance in their work.  Further, 87% reported that they actively use data to inform their decisions. We were also encouraged to discover that 94% of respondents want to learn more about data and data-informed decision making, and 97% are willing to invest time and effort to build their data skills.

Obtaining a baseline measure of data maturity at NU was a key first step in our data literacy initiative. (Recall that data literacy is the ability to access, understand, interpret, evaluate, and communicate using data.)  Data literacy is a characteristic of individuals, and being data literate helps people derive meaningful insights and make more informed decisions. As such, data literacy (in the aggregate) is also a key contributor to an organization’s data maturity.

Stay tuned for future editions of the UDS newsletter to learn more about the results of the Data Maturity Assessment.

If you have questions or would like to find out more about anything in this article, please contact Susan Gracia, Senior Associate Director of Data Literacy, at