Broad-based data is a critical part of 21st-century education, but it can be difficult to orchestrate at a high level.
As we’ve written about recently, there are a wide variety of ways in which educators can — and should — be using data to inform teaching and learning decisions. From addressing chronic absenteeism to improving equity to fostering continuous improvement in the classroom, data has rightfully become an essential part of helping every student succeed regardless of their circumstances.
But as powerful as data can be, utilizing it on a day to day basis is non-trivial. Aside from the challenges of supporting educator use (e.g., training, time, resources), school districts must also be purposeful in ensuring their data are of high quality and inform decisions. Without effective organizational oversight and management, educational data can quickly lose potency due to lacking data accuracy or validity.
Data governance is an approach to designing organizational structures that improve the quality, validity, and integrity of data. Data governance is not a new concept and many districts already have some form of data governance system in place. However, the need for high-quality data increases as school districts build cross-agency linkages and more sophisticated analytical resources (e.g., early childhood, foster care systems, and predictive analytics). Adopting a data governance framework can help improve and maintain data quality, which in turn increases the value of data analysis and reporting systems. If you have already implemented a data governance program, your organization may benefit from revisiting its design and implementation to achieve even higher data quality standards.
In a recent report entitled, “Roadmap for Cross-Agency Data Governance,” researchers at the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) outline six core aspects of any successful data governance system: vision and mission, composition and membership, roles and responsibilities, data decisions, committee processes, and sustainability. Below, I will review some the key concepts and attempt to translate those to a district-level data governance project.
Mission and Vision
A data governance committee’s vision and mission serve as the driving force behind everything it does. Typically, these statements take the shape of broad, overarching beliefs that frame the committee’s work, not clearly defined lists of actionable items. As the report points out, “The vision...describes the authority, supports, and objectives of the committee, including the ability to have executive decision-making authority for its data activities.”
This works best when the organization can articulate the strategic value of data and decision support within the framework of the district’s vision for success. It is important to make clear the value of investing in work that improves data quality. There should be no question that the district values the goals of data governance.
Composition and Membership
A data governance committee should be comprised by staff who will support the vision and mission and also represent different types of roles. Different kinds of people and agencies will be better-suited to tackle different sets of objectives, and a committee’s leadership must always keep this in mind as progress is made and the committee’s work shifts.
Even though data quality may seem like a purely technical issue, the data governance committee has to include perspectives from non-technical departments and roles (e.g., academics and curriculum, teaching and learning, human resources) because improving data quality usually means improving how staff use their data systems in their day to day jobs. If you have sub-committees for targeted projects (e.g., cleaning up course catalog data) then make sure those teams also have a mix of technical and content area experts.
Roles and Responsibilities
A data governance committee’s primary role at the state level is to establish a set of data practices that can be put in place across its state’s entire education system and “help set the tone and culture for the state’s data work, priorities, and values.”
At the district level, the committee will also establish best practices and business rules at that will impact data quality (e.g., the committee may recommend that schools no longer have the ability to create new course offerings without first working with a centralized staff person to ensure the course conforms to meet district needs.
On a more granular, day-to-day level, data governance committees are in charge of deciding everything from what data should be collected and shared to “how data quality and role-based access should be established.” There’s a wide range of stakeholders whose work will intersect with the committee’s, and figure out which data to provide to which parties. This is especially true at the district level. The focus may be on how data are captured in sources systems like the student information system, or on how data are analyzed and reported within a dashboard system.
Because they’re endowed with the power to shape data usage practices across numerous government agencies, it’s essential for data governance committees to institute clear checks and balances to hold themselves accountable for their actions. As the report points out, “Just as the state’s data system needs governance to guide its activities, the cross-agency data governance committee itself needs rules and processes for making decisions and communicating internally and externally to remain consistent, transparent, and impartial.”
A good committee process will accomplish three things:
1) The reasons why data are important to the district will be more visible,
2) It will help ensure that work is completed in between committee meetings, and
3) Document the long-term impacts and benefits of the data governance work.
Because committee members come and go and statewide educational objectives change over time, it’s incumbent upon every data governance committee to craft processes and mechanisms capable of outlasting their current executors. Withstanding these inevitable fluctuations requires a sustainable governance architecture designed to support a robust data culture throughout a state education system.
At the district level, the work needs to be able to support leadership changes by applying data governance to the new types of data and analytics that are valued by the new leadership. The goal isn’t to replace the committee structures from the ground up, but instead influence the types of data problems they are focused on.
A Technological Foundation
At Hoonuit, our essential data management suite includes a robust data analytics solution that brings together disparate data sources into a comprehensive platform, facilitating increased transparency and accountability and nuanced data-driven decision-making. We understand the pressures educators are under to integrate data into everything they do, and we’ve built a cutting-edge platform designed to make data use an opportunity — not a logistical burden. We fully support data governance processes through a mix of standard and customized data quality analytics and nightly build reports.
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