A Steward is Like a Babysitter: (To Own or Not to Own)

To own or not to own, that is the question. At least that was the question that came up often during an Information Stewardship special interest group (SIG) at the Atlantic City DAMA/Meta data
conference in April. To the disgust of the gentleman sitting to my right (he choked every time one of the participants mentioned the word “owner” instead of “steward”), the semantics of
information stewardship appeared to drive the conversation. Semantics was the main topic of discussion, and the reasons why stewardship programs often fail was a close second (the second is a
related topic reserved for another day).

The definition of information stewardship that I adopted focuses on accountability for information resource. Stewards do not, in fact, “own” the data, rather they take care of it. Just like a
babysitter takes care of the kids and (hopefully) returns them safely at the end of the evening, the steward takes care of data for the period of time in which they are accountable. When the
babysitter leaves, so does their responsibility. I could just imagine Susie (Friday night’s babysitter) arguing with Tracy (the Saturday night babysitter) that she owns my kids. Sometimes I wish
this were true (jk), however the truth is (besides for the fact that my wife and I never get out two nights in a row), the babysitters only have responsibility for the kids when they are in charge
of taking care of them. Just like the information steward only has accountability when the data is under their “watchful eye”.

Ok, ok… that is a silly comparison. Or is it? When a babysitter arrives to watch the “monsters”, they are basically charged with SPECIFIC accountabilities, not
ALL accountabilities. They are supposed to keep the kids safe, keep the kids happy, get them in their pajamas, and force them into bed (those with little kids can relate to the
last action). Predefined actions are the basis of their accountability. The babysitter is not responsible for seeing that homework is completed (that is a parental after school chore). The
babysitter is not responsible for teaching kids their ABCs or educating them of right from wrong. They are accountable for actions that are plainly defined ahead of time so there are no questions
about what their responsibilities are. Just like information stewards should be.

In one definition of information stewardship, stewards are accountable based on the actions that they take against the data (see the article “>A Simplified
Approach to Information Stewardship
– TDAN Issue 1.0).

The people who are responsible for defining specific data have accountabilities that are related to defining that data. These individuals only have the accountability for the data
that they define. Responsibilities for defining data include the creation and maintenance of data definitions for the company, integrity and quality of the definitions, following data definition
standards, and communicating concerns, issues, and problems with data definition to the individuals that can influence change.

The people who are responsible for creating, modifying, or deleting specific data have accountabilities that are related to these actions. Responsibilities for creating, modifying
and deleting data include the integrity and quality of the data handled by that department, completeness and timeliness of data, management and control of data, and communicating concerns, issues,
and problems with data management to the individuals that can influence change.

The people who are responsible for consuming specific data (using the data for decision making purposes or reporting information to internal and external entities) have
accountabilities that are related to this action. Responsibilities for consuming data can include accountability for data usage, communicating new and changed business requirements to individuals
that will be impacted, and communicating concerns, issues, and problems with data consumption to individuals that can influence change.

Stewardship fails because of complexities that are not discussed when a stewardship project is defined. Planning to handle these complexities are the true guts of a stewardship program.

These items should be considered when defining a stewardship program:

  • definition of roles and responsibilities (in other words, the accountabilities that come with the actions).
  • procedures for collecting information about who takes action on data and how that information will be kept up to date (it is like hitting a moving target).
  • selling the need for stewardship to the organization and making certain that people in the company recognize the importance of accountability.
  • procedures for stewards to go head-to-head to hash out data related issues (resolving data related issues is the ultimate goal, isn’t it).

Companies (just like in the SIG) squabble over the semantics of whether the steward actually owns the data. “Ownership” implies that the steward can do anything they want with the data (“heck, I
own it, don’t I?”). People don’t own data, they take care of it. Like a babysitter.

If we aren’t going to use the term “steward” (instead of “owner”), I’d rather see us use the word “babysitter”. Consider the steward to be the Data Babysitter. They have responsibilities
and accountabilities tied to the actions that they take when, in fact, they are on the clock.

By the way, my wife’s lease expires next month on the car she is “watching” for the dealership. And to think, she has been the car’s steward for the past two years. Argh… the babysitter
analogy is better.

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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 of The Data Administration Newsletter (TDAN.com). 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 has hosted the popular monthly webinar series on data governance called Real-World Data Governance (w Dataversity) since 2012. Seiner recently accepted the position of an Adjunct Instructor for the Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College CDataO post-graduate program. KIK Consulting is celebrating its 20th year in business while TDAN.com has been actively published for close to 25 years.

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