A Simplified Approach to Information Stewardship

Accountability is a scary word. Being accountable for something means that you are responsible for making certain that it is of high quality and that it positively impacts the business.
Webster’s dictionary uses a single word to define accountability; answerable. It does not matter the substance of the something. You are the person.

In most companies or organizations, there are a lot of resources in which people are held accountable. In manufacturing companies, people are held accountable for raw materials and finished goods.
In financial institutions, people are held accountable for financial assets. In all companies, managers are held accountable for people and their budgets. And so on…

Now, along comes DATA as a valued corporate resource.

As an audience of individuals and companies related to data administration, most of us feel that data should be managed the same as all other corporate critical resources. That means people should
be held accountability for DATA. Accountability for data: That is the definition of Information Stewardship.

Gaining accountability for data within an organization is not an impossible feat. In fact, it can be quite simple. In most organizations, responsibilities do not have to be assigned; they already
exist. In most organizations, people do not have to be asked if they want to become stewards; they already are stewards. The important difference between a company that has developed an Information
Stewardship Program and a company that has not, is the documentation that is captured and how it is communicated to the organization.

The purpose of this article is to share ideas on how to implement an Information Stewardship Program in as little as six months and with limited resources. The project from which these ideas were
documented took place at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the fall and winter of 1996 and 1997.

In most companies there already exists a “de facto” Information Stewardship Program. Individuals already define data for their business. Individuals create and update that data. Individuals read
and report that data to customers (internal and external). These three actions (define, create/update, and read) are the basis of a stewardship program.

Idea #1: If you can get people in your organization to tell you what data they define, create/update, and read, and you can record this information in a database, you are well on your way to
implementing an Information Stewardship program.

To record the actions people take against data in a database, you should consider the following:

  • how will the information be collected (questionnaires, interviews, group meetings)
  • how will the information be kept up to date (on-line transactions, paper forms, hooks into HR and security systems, postings of job positions and changes, word of mouth
  • how will the information be verified (on-line transactions, through reports)
  • how will the information be disseminated throughout the corporation (on-line on an intranet web-site, printed directories, ad-hoc requests)

Idea #2: The effort expended to capture the “action” data should not be minimized. The person(s) who investigates and records this data should:

  • know the right questions to ask and a non threatening way to ask them
  • be prepared for a lot of questions about why this data is being recorded
  • have the ability to categorize data that goes by different names and recognize reuse
  • be persistent, be prepared to follow-up with people and then follow-up again
  • be knowledgeable about the organizational makeup and have organizational charts available
  • have a database designed and ready to capture the “action” data

Idea #3: Define the accountabilities and responsibilities that go with each data action. Included below are some of the more obvious responsibilities that go with the actions of defining,
creating and updating, and reading data.

Steward Type 1: Data Definers

  • Responsible for defining data in the best interest of the organization
  • Responsible for making the definition of data available to the organization
  • Responsible for communicating concerns about data quality to DA

Steward Type 2: Data Creators

  • Responsible for accuracy of the data that is entered into a system or db
  • Responsible for the timeliness of data that is captured
  • Responsible for communicating concerns about data quality to DA

Steward Type 3: Data Readers

  • Responsible for the integrity of the data usage
  • Responsible for keeping specified data and results confidential
  • Responsible for communicating concerns about data quality to DA

The list of responsibilities and accountabilities should include additional responsibilities that are specific to your organization. It is important that upper management participates in creating
the documented list of responsibilities and accountabilities. Then, there is no reason to go back to the stewards and ask them if they agree that they have these responsibilities.

Note that the third bullet point is the same for all three types of stewards. If everyone who knew of data problems communicated those problems to a DA group, more resources may be applied to fix
problems. People tend to be passive when it comes to trying to solve a problem that they do not own.

Idea #4: Once the responsibilities and accountabilities for each data action are defined and documented, verbiage pertaining to information stewardship should be added to your
company’s Information Policy.

The Information Policy should include statements pertaining to:

  • the definition of Information Stewardship
  • the department responsible for cataloging steward data
  • the responsibility of management to communicate changes in stewardship
  • accountability for data part of people’s job descriptions
  • accountabilities follow actions as recorded in the steward database

You may be saying… wait a minute. All we have done so far is document what people are doing with data and define what responsibilities and accountabilities go with the actions. Actually, when it
comes down to it, that documentation is all that is needed. This type of program makes available information on who does what with data and the accountabilities of those individuals. Information
Stewardship is accountability for data. You haven’t given anybody anything that they don’t already have. How can anyone object?

This has been a description of an Information Stewardship Program made easy. Of course, politics, people’s willingness to cooperate, time frames, and resources to complete the project have a
lot to do with the project’s success. But then again, doesn’t it always.

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Robert S. Seiner

Robert S. Seiner

Robert (Bob) S. Seiner is the President and Principal of KIK Consulting & Educational Services and the Publisher Emeritus of The Data Administration Newsletter. Seiner is a thought-leader in the fields of data governance and metadata management. KIK (which stands for “knowledge is king”) offers consulting, mentoring and educational services focused on Non-Invasive Data Governance, data stewardship, data management and metadata management solutions. Seiner is the author of the industry’s top selling book on data governance – Non-Invasive Data Governance: The Path of Least Resistance and Greatest Success (Technics Publications 2014) and the followup book - Non-Invasive Data Governance Strikes Again: Gaining Experience and Perspective (Technics 2023), and has hosted the popular monthly webinar series on data governance called Real-World Data Governance (w Dataversity) since 2012. Seiner holds the position of Adjunct Faculty and Instructor for the Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College Chief Data Officer Executive Education program.

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