University of Wisconsin–Madison

Category: Data Literacy

A Culture of Information Literacy

Last week, I had the tremendous opportunity to speak at CDOVision, an executive track of the Enterprise Data World conference.  Topics at the conference ranged from data management strategies to data quality to monetizing data to organizational culture around data.  CDOs from government, the financial sector, tech sector and even the military presented.  I learned quite a bit from the experiences of others and hopefully am bringing back ideas that will help us at UW-Madison continue down our path using data more efficiently to make better decisions.

Associate Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management — Steve Hahn, who is one of the Data Governance Steering Team members, articulated well a principle that we should try to adhere to within our Data Governance Program.  During my presentation at CDOVision, I spoke to this principle:  we should not concern ourselves with ownership of data.  I believe this question (debate) is unproductive and unwinnable.  It doesn’t matter who ‘owns’ or doesn’t ‘own’ a particular data set.  What does matter is how we collectively ‘curate’ or ‘steward’ that data.  Much like the curator of an art museum curates the works that are contained within the museum.  The curator doesn’t own the paintings.  However, the curator decides who gets access to which pieces of art work, how they get access to that art, for how long, what information is also presented along with the art work, etc.  With our institutional data at UW-Madison, our Data Stewardship Council is in the process of making the same types of determinations.  Who should have access to different segments of our institutional data?  How do they gain such access?  What information, or meta-data, is available for those segments of data?

Speaking towards stewarding our data in this manner is one step towards building a culture of literacy of our institutional data.  If all of our users understand how data should be curated, what the expectations are of handling data and from where the data comes, we start to mitigate the risk of the data being handled inappropriately and we also mitigate the risk of the data interpreted inconsistently to make ill-advised decisions.  I believe that the conversation around curating data also allows for greater transparency into the Data Governance Process.  Decision rights need to be established as to who or what group make the determination around access to certain data domains.  The process for establishing those decision rights, how they were granted and the policies created from those people or groups helps foster a collaborative and open environment.

This culture of openness and literacy around the information we have available to us at UW-Madison is what I will continue to strive to help foster.  We have a number of initiatives upcoming in the very near future including implementing a risk-based approach to securing our data, building out our Tableau environment and service and implementing a replacement for Interactive Reporting.  All of these initiatives will require that our users on campus have a good understanding of the data with which they interact and the responsibilities that come with interacting with that data.  The next couple of years will prove to be not only exciting for us ‘data geeks’ but also hopefully prove to be years in which we are able to create more efficiency and common understanding of the institutional data we have at our fingertips to help us make decisions.