Data Governance: What is It and Why is It Important?

At Certica, we are often asked by school districts about the best way to set up a data governance structure. Data governance goes hand-in-hand with the data integration, interoperability and data quality initiatives that the Certica Connect capabilities address. When we look for data governance expertise, we turn to Nancy Smith, longtime education data expert and founder of DataSmith Solutions. We are delighted to have Nancy write this blog post.

What is Data Governance?

A strong data governance program is designed to provide coordinated and systemic oversight of data-related decisions throughout an organization. A data governance program ensures confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data by reducing data security risks, and also provides transparency to how data is managed, who generates it and who consumes it.

Data governance establishes the policies and processes within which data is standardized, collected, securely stored, analyzed, shared and used – all while protecting individual privacy and confidentiality. For example, data governance processes typically address who decides what data to collect, when and how. Data sharing agreements between organizations are managed through data governance, as is the prioritization and execution of research and analytical processes.

Data governance addresses data management, project management and overall program coordination, each of which has different scope and goals:

  • Data Management addresses issues such as data quality, data standards, common vocabulary, and data matching standards for cross-program data alignment.
  • Project Management provides a framework for data use and decision-making in specific projects within a larger program.
  • Program Coordination provides a structure and framework for goal setting, strategic planning, roles and responsibilities, and decision-making for a program. It identifies the key stakeholders involved and who is authorized to approve program activities and priorities.

Why is Data Governance Important?

The risks of poor-quality data, data breaches, and duplicate data are high and very expensive. Districts and state education agencies (SEAs) spend millions annually on student information systems, software, hardware, information technology (IT) staff, assessments and many other aspects of data system management. Besides student-related data systems, money is spent on transportation, health, food services and library data systems, among others. Without a coordinated, systemic data governance program, it is easy to collect both redundant and contradictory data across those various programs.

Poor quality, inconsistent or missing data could cost schools, districts and the state millions of dollars, since data is used to determine state and federal funding. Poor-quality data can impact the trust of both policymakers and practitioners, as well as adversely affect research and evaluation studies which are used to inform policy and practice. Finally, data is used to guide student progress and outcomes, so it is essential that schools and districts have accurate and timely data for guidance and counseling.

If data is not accurate, reliable, valid and timely, all of those things are at risk.

Who Should be Involved in Data Governance?

A successful data governance program demands the vision, leadership and cooperation of people at all levels of implementation: leadership, IT staff, project managers, program staff, teachers and other subject matter experts. Data governance cannot just be assigned to IT staff; it must benefit from the insights and partnership of those who know the programs and who will use the data. With the help of a designated data governance coordinator, shared data ownership and governance is vital to ensure cost effective and efficient data systems that can be used by many stakeholders.

How is a Data Governance Program Organized?

An effective data governance program engages a broad spectrum of stakeholders who provide input and expertise based on their needs and skill set, while also recognizing the decision-making authority and responsibility of leadership. Rather than creating one large data governance board that is comprised of an organization’s executives, program managers, database administrators, and data managers who each focus on different types of issues – from organizational policy to data collection standards, the typical data governance program will create a committee structure that engages people in smaller teams that focus on issues within their area of expertise and their level of authority and responsibility within the organization. The two diagrams below demonstrate this approach.

Diagram 1 represents a small district with 10 schools that want to gather input from many staff but are restricted by the school-day responsibilities of school-based staff in terms of meeting times and frequency. Instead they created school-based teams to govern issues for each school and had one representative from each serve on a district policy and practice committee.

Diagram 1. Small District Data Governance Structure

Diagram 2 depicts an interagency approach for a data governance program that oversees data-sharing between two state agencies and the many statewide programs they administer. This diagram also shows the engagement of local service providers and advisory councils.

Diagram 2. State-level Interagency Data Governance Structure


Data governance cannot be a task relegated to the IT staff who oversee the data management system. It doesn’t work to have representatives from different programs make separate requests of the IT department for new data-related software and tools without understanding how it will affect or duplicate other resources already in place. The organization needs a way to systematically coordinate and document all data-related resources, policies and processes to ensure both fiscal responsibility and high quality, consistent data throughout the organization.

Tags: , ,