Determining the value of Information Literacy



Stéphane Goldstein of InformAll provides an overview of the investigations and outcomes of the Determining the value of Information Literacy (DeVIL) project, which was funded by a CILIP Information Literacy Group research bursary.


In 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 the DeVIL project – Determining the Value of Information Literacy – commissioned in early 2015 by the CILIP Information Literacy Group.

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 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 project team (Stéphane Goldstein of InformAll and Andrew Whitworth of the University of Manchester) 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.

Three case studies were examined during the course of the project. Interviews were conducted with relevant managers from one enterprise in: the commercial sector (an SME that develops a human resources information system); the public sector (a large London local authority); and the voluntary sector (an organisation that acts as facilitator for voluntary organisations). This provided a good range of perspectives, although it is recognised that the small size of the sample is just a selective snapshot that cannot represent the full breadth of experiences for all enterprises.

Nevertheless, what was interesting was how our case studies perceived investments in processes like re-organising the layout of the work space, or using social media tools to share on-the-job knowledge, as counting as investments in ‘information literacy’, and how these themes were common to both the London authority (with its 4,000 staff) and the two much smaller cases. All three organisations also recognised, in different ways, the importance of helping their client or customer base develop informational know-how.

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. The tool is being made available 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.

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. Each of these is charted against twenty indicators of value that were identified in the course of the interviews – 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:

  • Giving staff the means to collect and input organisational data, and to use that for interpreting and analysing key indicators when making decisions (which reflects an investment in organisational practice), can add value through organisational improvement, productivity, accountability and transparency
  • Fostering and encouraging the use of business collaboration and networking tools, such as Yammer (investment in information systems and technologies), can add value through flexible / agile working and increased transparency
  • The use of designated in-house information experts or champions, e.g. through digital centres of excellence (investment in staff development and support), can add value through streamlined decision making, improved organisational credibility or reputation, and the nurturing of a more collaborative / open working culture.

The range of correlations reflect the circumstances that characterise the three case studies – but these correlations are not unique to the organisations covered by the project, and consequently the tool may be deployed 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 tool useful as a means of reflecting on how the information know-how of staff can contribute to corporate organisational health. But, at the same time, it must be remembered that the tool is a prototype, which 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.

For further information on the project or to offer your feedback, please contact stephane.goldstein@researchinfonet.org or drew.whitworth@manchester.ac.uk

Stéphane Goldstein’s presentation on the DeVIL project at the European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL) in Tallinn, Estonia, 20 October 2015.

Find out more about the DeVIL Project

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