What does data governance mean?
One of the concepts that is often referenced, but poorly understood, for state longitudinal data systems is “data governance.” This term can be confusing because it describes both decision-making authority and specific technical or legal requirements. It is not just the governing board, but rather all of the rules that guide how linked data sets are managed, including data availability, usability, integrity, quality, and security.
According to experts convened by the Institute of Education Sciences’ State Longitudinal Data System Grant Program, data governance includes:
- Decision-making: the means by which decisions are made about information assets
- Roles and responsibilities: related to authority over and accountability for data
- Security: data security and confidentiality policies and enforcement processes for those procedures
- Data quality: mechanisms for collaboratively and continuously improving data quality and usability
Because data governance is both a structure and a process, different stakeholders may be focusing on different grain sizes of the same issue in a governance discussion. Some may be seeking a general set of rules about who is responsible for what, while others are focused on setting up a highly specific process that will inform coding decisions or legal liability.
Break data governance into its component parts
Opaque processes, confusing rules, and unnecessary technical bureaucracy limit broad participation. In line with its commitment to user-centered design, the California Cradle-to-Career system planning team sought to address data governance issues by reframing concepts using non-technical terms that were understandable to many audiences. Each facet of data governance was treated as a discrete activity with a specific work product, so that the grain size for discussion could be clearly outlined (see the Sample Governance Documents section below for examples).
Each data governance concept was presented with examples from other states, considerations related to priorities for California, and discussion questions to engage planning participants in determining what would best address current needs.
Background papers on data governance
Read sample background papers and discussion questions on governance from the California planning process:
You can see how to explain data governance concepts in plain language and how those concepts relate to discrete planning activities.
Codify data governance at the right level
Different pieces of data governance need to be documented and formalized in different ways, ranging from informal agreements to legal requirements. For example, a vision statement may be appropriate as a component of a non-binding board manual, whereas data access may need to to be enshrined in legislation. Knowing what kind of document you are producing will change who need in the room to weigh in on decisions.
The continuum of data governance documents, based on the level to which they are binding, includes:
- Board manuals: Non-binding and ever-evolving documents that help governing board members understand the norms of engagement
- Models: Summaries of anticipated relationships or processes that can be used to craft more specific resources like procurement documents or legal agreements, such as a data model that address how information would flow from data providers into the linked data set
- Policies: Rules that direct how specific issues will be addressed, such as an opt-out policy that clarifies how an individual could request to be excluded from the linked data set
- Legal documents: Binding documents that establish requirements for specific stakeholders and which hold the full force of law, such as a memorandum of understanding between the data providers and the state data system host or a data governance charter that establishes accountability for how data will be managed
- Legislation: State laws that define the structure, allowable use, and requirements of data systems
States may use a combination of these types of documents, and may not have all of them. Determining the right level for the agreement may change the people and groups who need to be part of the process for that agreement. The section on Planning and Management can help you identify the appropriate group of experts to establish or revise specific data governance documentation.
Sample data governance documents
The California planning process generated numerous policies and structures to address various facets of data governance for both the governing board and the entity managing the data system. The examples below show the mix of high-level and very specific processes that data governance includes:
Expand community input in governing board structures
Traditional approaches to building governing boards can create a structure that is ultimately too narrow for the task of making data relevant and accessible to a broad constituency of users. Because data governance includes both broad decision-making authority and granular implementation policies, states have traditionally focused their governing boards on implementation tasks associated with building and managing data sets. For example, governing boards often review data requests, address issues of privacy and security, and develop communications for key audiences such as the legislature.
This type of approach is particularly efficient in the start-up years of a data system, when data governance policies are first being developed. However, as states contemplate expanding their data systems to include a broader range of interested parties, or to make information available to more types of people, they may wish to adjust their governing board structure to allow more perspectives in the decision-making process.
In California, legislation passed to create the Cradle-to-Career system spelled out a novel three-part governance structure, based on the core values in the vision statement, which emphasizes data use by a wide range of people and organizations. The 21-member governing board includes representatives of agencies providing data, members of the legislature, appointees from the Governor’s Office to represent educator perspectives, and additional appointees by the Governor’s Office and legislature that represent different types of data users.
In addition, there are two advisory boards that address different aspects of the data system:
- Data & Tools Advisory Board: Ensures that the analytical data set and tools for students provide actionable information
- Community Engagement Advisory board: Creates strong feedback loops with data users to support evidence-based decision making, analytical capacity, and equitable access to actionable informationIn adopting this model, California intentionally chose not to create an implementation-focused board. This does not mean that the governing board will ignore operations — for example it will convene ad hoc committees to update security requirements or align data definitions — but it places an emphasis on ensuring that the data system is fulfilling the intended outcomes that were articulated in the vision and mission statements. And because the mission and vision statements were crafted by and for a broad audience with different perspectives, the board is ultimately responsible for ensuring the system works for everyone. The planning process also highlighted the need to quantify the degree to which the intended audiences are using the data system tools and to assess how the system may need to change to meet user needs over time.
Focusing governing board structures on ensuring the data system is meeting the goals set by the state, rather than attending more narrowly to implementation processes, and including more voices in decision making may be appropriate for states with an established data infrastructure. When states are implementing a user-centered design process (see the section on Purpose and Vision), more expansive leadership may be particularly valuable to determine how best to expand the scope of information included and to increase access to and use of information.
Community-focused governance structure
You can use this document to consider ways that governance can be expanded to include additional perspectives and ways to focus governance activities on outcomes that are important to a broad array of groups, in addition to operational considerations.