Two challenges for data governance in higher education

I recently listened in on an online meeting on data governance with about 140 others at universities all over North America. Two guest speakers presented two very different stories of the evolution of data governance at their institutions. It does seem there are multiple possible approaches.

I took away a couple of related insights about challenges unique to higher ed. Credit for these insights go to the presenters, San Cannon of the University of Rochester and Beth Prince-Bradbury of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Any unsupported elaborations or misinterpretations are my own.

One: The value proposition for data governance is not obvious.

Two: Cultural change is one of the biggest challenges.

Most experts in data governance are talking about the private sector. But higher education is not like the private sector. We are not profit-based. For us it’s not about ROI. We are mission-driven, and this makes it harder to define the value proposition.

Higher ed is also not a command-and-control world. Support from the top is not enough to overcome passive resistance. A Chief Data Officer who reports to the provost isn’t necessarily invested with a lot of power; he or she still faces the same cultural and change issues working with departments who consider institutional data “theirs.”

Challenges, yes – but these can be translated into useful guidance.

First, we must clearly define the value proposition of data governance in terms of driving the institution’s mission and strategic direction. Then we need to socialize that value as part of a robust change management effort.

One of the presenters noted that data governance is about policy but it’s not about enforcement. The model gains its authority and legitimacy not from presidential or provostial decree, but from the willing participation of people and departments across the university. Maybe the best model stresses leadership from the middle of the organization rather than the top. I don’t know.

What I do know is that a shared understanding of institutional mission and direction, desirable in itself, would smooth the way for effective data governance.

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