The devil you may not know: determining the value of information literacy for employers

The devil you may not know: determining the value of information literacy for employers

Information-SnapIn an information-saturated, digital world, what are the benefits of employing people who are competent and confident in the way that they handle information and data? In order words, what value is added by employing an information literate workforce? These were the questions addressed by a recently completed project – Determining the Value of Information Literacy, or DeVIL.

Information literacy is not widely-recognised as a term or a concept by employers, but there is much existing evidence to suggest that know-how associated with effective handling of information and data is critical to the well-being of enterprises; for instance the ability to search for information effectively, to ensure data security and to manage information are among many of the factors that underpin organisational success. What the DeVIL project considered lacking were ways to understand how companies identified investments to make in developing this know-how, and how they perceived the returns on these investments.

The principal output of the project is a simple, prototype tool that maps out these diverse ways in which investments in information literacy underpin the performance and effectiveness of enterprises and therefore might provide good returns on investment. This is available here, along with a report which explains how the evidence was derived, notably through a small number of case studies. The tool is being made available freely to businesses and other users, to help them reflect on the relationship between investments in information related-factors and a range of indicators of business value. Through its mapping, the tool gives an idea of organisational areas where information literacy investments might provide returns.

The DeVIL tool and report are potentially valuable, because they enable businesses to recognise that the ability of their staff to handle of information cannot be taken for granted. Relevant skills, competencies and capabilities, whether they are developed through higher education or within the enterprise, really do matter. There is a shared responsibility between universities and employers to ensure that graduate entrants to the job market possess these attributes.

Broadly, the project identified five broad areas where enterprises make investments that relate to the use and handling of information: staff development and guidance; information systems; practices; use of space; and outreach and client relations. The tool charts each of these against twenty indicators of value that were identified in the course of the project – for instance, organisational improvement, productivity, accountability, flexible or agile working… The correlation between these indicators and the areas of investment highlights the organisational factors and activities that relate to the handling of information. The tool therefore indicates how investment in information literacy factors impacts on the various indicators of value. To give some examples:

- Investment in organisational practice: giving staff the means to collect and input organisational data, and to use that for interpreting and analysing key indicators when making decisions can add value through organisational improvement, productivity, accountability and transparency.

- Investment in information systems and technologies: fostering and encouraging the use of business collaboration and networking tools, such as Yammer can add value through flexible / agile working and increased transparency.

- Investment in staff development and support: the use of designated in-house information experts or champions, e.g. through digital centres of excellence can add value through streamlined decision-making, improved organisational credibility or reputation and the nurturing of a more collaborative/open working culture.

- Investment in use of space: smart design and use of open-plan office space to encourage collaborative working and freer exchange of information between staff as part of an effort to change working culture, can add value through flexible/agile working and financial saving.
The range of correlations reflect the circumstances that characterise the project’s case studies – but these correlations are not unique to the organisations covered by the project, and consequently the tool may be deployed to in other settings too. Other enterprises (and any player interested in the relevance of information literacy to employment) may find the analytical framework provided by the DeVIL tool useful. In its current state, the tool is a prototype, and it would benefit from being adapted or expanded to address the specific circumstances of a wider range of enterprises. Views and feedback on its potential usefulness would be welcome – please contact me at if you wish to contribute to this dialogue, or would like to know more.

Stéphane Goldstein has worked as a manager in higher education and research funding, initially with the Medical Research Council and Research Councils UK, and since 2005 with the Research Information Network. He has managed numerous research projects over this period, and latterly has taken the lead in the building, development and running of the InformAll initiative – to develop understanding and raise awareness of the relevance, importance and value of information literacy to society, through research projects and other collaborative activities. He has undertaken research and analysis in other areas, including research data management and data publication.

Photo credit: Carl, Creative Commons on Flickr

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