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Data Governance

by Tod Massa 2. November 2018 21:57

At the end of September I was in Little Rock, Arkansas as part of a panel discussion on  statewide longitudinal data systems, sharing our experiences in Virginia. I've been meaning to write up my thoughts from that day, but haven't taken the time yet to do so. One of the things I spoke about was a need to recenter the reasons and thinking behind data governance.

What many Chief Data Officers and Data Governance people seem to get wrong is this. Control. They make the mistake time and time again that Data Governance is all about control. Controlling access. Controlling definition. Controlling use.

This is wrong because control is very often an illusion, especially when it comes to data. No matter what agreements you enjoin and sign, at some point you give up anything resembling control and can only hope and/or trust that the other party (parties)  live up to their side of the agreement.

In the end, I don't think this is sustainable. I'm not suggesting the contracts, agreements, MOUs should disappear, because they can't - they meet a legal need while defining a necessary framework for engagement. Instead I think data governance should focus on the single principle of 'respect.' We need to ensure that there is a culture of respect towards the data, towards its use, and most importantly, a constant respect for and of the people the data represent. Too often it seems folks talk about protecting privacy and confidentiality as compliance ritual instead of as a matter of respect. This has to change if we are going to have meaningful data governance and meaningful protections of individuals with a use of data that drives positive change and saely gives voice to those at the margins or those without a voice.

This is not to say that control is wrong. Rather, it is to suggest that control is secondary and that respect is, or should be, primary. We must engage in controlling access to protect individual privacy. Likewise, we must exert a certain amount of control of definition of the data to ensure it represents and respects the nature of the data subjects, the people, with accuracy. 

Does it matter what thinking underlies things if the actions are still the same?

Clearly, I think it does. It is my position that having clear, meaningful reasons for what we are doing results in a better outcome. I also think that operating from a position of respecting the people and the lives behind the data makes all the difference. 



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