IT Forum Perspectives

How George Washington University created a climate of data stewardship

By Kevin Danchisko

When the IT Forum launched in 2014, our member CIOs requested research on data management and analytics research. In response, the Forum identified 20 hallmarks of the data-driven university. Based on member feedback, we determined that discussions about data stewardship were a top-of-mind concern.

For most campus members, data stewardship responsibilities are distractions. Since data management is outside the purview of most performance reviews, data stewardship activities are often neglected. In response to this problem, George Washington University added descriptions of data stewardship to campus members’ job descriptions, which elevated data stewardship to a formal responsibility.

We recently connected with Ron Layne, the Manager of Data Quality and Data Governance, to discover what he’s learned since the launch of this practice in early 2015. Here are four key takeaways.

1. Data stewards exist across the entire institution, not just on the data governance committee

The Information Technology team at George Washington University originally partnered with Human Resources to draft the job descriptions. IT then asked individuals who oversee campus units (e.g., vice provosts) to designate individuals within their organizations who often interact with campus data, from directors to analysts, as formal data stewards. This sponsorship from institutional executives empowered campus members to dedicate time and effort to data management tasks.

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2. Put the concept of ‘data ownership’ to work for you

The belief that data only belongs to a single department, as opposed to an entire institution, can inhibit an institution’s analytics efforts. In response, many institutions strive to cultivate a climate of institutional data ownership. However, the decision to frame data as an institution-wide initiative can lead to unintended consequences if campus members no longer consider themselves responsible for data improvement. For this reason, the team at George Washington University promotes the concept of stewardship—i.e., that data is an institutional asset that departments own and must cultivate.

3. Staff turnover is the biggest roadblock to continued success

Typically, early contributors to data management efforts are highly interested and engaged. Unfortunately, when staff turnover occurs, new staff members often fail to share the same interest level or understand the importance of data stewardship. In response, Ron’s team created a tiered training program to onboard data stewards. They focus on the fundamentals of data governance, importance of data management to the institution, and the resources needed to improve campus data.

4. Start data quality improvement efforts upstream

Now that George Washington University has established a climate of data stewardship across the institution, the next step is to improve data quality in campus source systems. Initial efforts begin with the enrollment management divisions of the university. This is due to the fact that data which comes from administrative offices, such as admissions and financial aid, can lead to downstream ramifications. For example, different conventions for the last name field in the SIS can cause campus-wide problems, from course management platforms to the office of communications.

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