After the success of this conference, HESPA asked if I could summarise the key points and issues raised.   Posting this reminds me I promised two further articles on ‘Valuing the data asset’ and ‘Skills needed for successful Data Governance’. Coming soon, watch this space!

HESPA Data Governance Conference review

It’s hard to know how colleagues will respond after being shown a picture of a car driving into a lake! For context this was a metaphor for ‘consequences of bad data’ when considering that data ‘as the GPS for your strategy’.

The theme for the day was the practical application of data governance in HE. This was triggered by HESPA members wanting to learn more about ‘how to put your data to work’. Not by driving it into a lake obviously!

Dave Kernohan from WONKHE kicked off with how public data sets are increasingly shaping policy. It reminded me that sometimes we become – at least a little – obsessed about our own institutional data and how it presents us in the public domain. The flip side are the many other data sources, aggregations and linkages creating new insights and policy direction. The TUNDRA dataset that DK talked through was an excellent example of that.

The conference indulged me for an hour to share my passion for the why, how and what of Data Governance. It’s a little depressing we’re still talking about how hard it is to make the case for professionalising our data, but it was encouraging to see how this group could clearly see the value of doing so. I talked about a pragmatic Data Governance implementation moving an institution from 30% analysis / 70% cleaning to 70% analysis and 30% cleaning.

It’s ambitious but it’s possible and I didn’t feel alone in the room saying so.  We had four excellent speakers from Sheffield Hallam, the Open University, the University of St. Andrews and the University of Wolverhampton. Sharing their data governance journeys, it became apparent that no institution has yet truly embedded managing data as an asset.

However, progress is being made. Clearly there is much ‘best practice’ work that can be shared within the sector. Such sharing will reduce the daunting prospect of ‘where do I start’. Those four universities all started in slightly different places but are heading in the same direction.

The messages we kept hearing were ‘this is a lifestyle change not a project’, ‘it needs focus and priority from senior leadership’, ‘it is a people led change’ and ‘it takes time to get results’. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to understand why moving to a new level of data professionalism is such a challenge.

The level of interest and engagement could be measured by the still full room for the final Panel / Q&A session. Three key questions were posed ‘What needs to go into a business case for Data Governance?’, ‘How do you assess the value of a data asset?’ and ‘What skills do I need to successfully embed sustainable data governance?’.

These are not simple questions to answer, but HESPA is committed to moving this dialogue forward, and continuing to engage richly with this group. It was clear from the conference, members can see the benefits of Data Governance and, as planners, see themselves taking the lead in promoting it.