Five Ways to Finding the Citizen Data Scientists in your Organization

You don't become a data driven organizations by hiring a handful of PhD's and setting them loose on your big data platforms and data sets. Oh you may get tremendous insights, competitive advantages, and even new product offerings through this approach. But becoming data driven is an inside out transformation. And that requires changes in mindset, culture, roles and responsibilities, and technologies.

I've written a lot about developing a citizen data science process. Here is how to kick off a citizen data science program and how to select appropriate data visualization platforms. My three tips on successful data science programs cover developing and delivering dashboards.

Your citizen data scientists are change agents

But let's talk today about recruiting citizen data scientists. Here's what I suggested in my previous post:

Find the data super users that are currently doing data work manually. These may be users that are skilled at asking good data questions, are very hands on with spreadsheets, or elect to use database tools that drive data silos. They may also be versatile running analytics in specialty tools like CRM, web analytics, or even ERP. These users have skills, but need technical direction on which tools the organization wants to support long term. They also need defined data governance practices to help avoid a new generation of data landfills.

Citizen data scientists are vocal go getters, challengers, and change agents that have shown some "hands on" skills working with data. They may be working with IT to get tools and access to data, or, they may be working quietly with the resources that they have. They may be asking questions openly, or, sending in their ideas privately by email. On a technical/data side, I tell people that if they are versed in doing pivot tables or other more advanced Excel formulas, then they can easily learn Tableau and other BI platforms targeting business users.

Recruiting Citizen Data Scientists

Now that you know the job spec, here's a quick recipe on finding them

  • Speak to managers who are often willing to share their needs on doing more with data and identify people on their staff that might be willing to help out.
  • Speak to HR about having data skills formally part of the learning and development program. See who signs up.
  • Hold lunch and learns or schedule conference rooms to watch data oriented webinars. Again, see who shows up.
  • Host a "datathon" and see who shows up, who asks good questions, or who has some skills working with data tools.
  • Use sanctioned tools and practices per your organization to find people with high Excel usage and/or searching the web for information on using Excel. Reach out to these people to learn more about their goals and interests.
I never found it that difficult. Citizen data scientists want to be found and featured!

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.