Does your data have a purpose?

May 7, 2018
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Institutions accumulate unimaginable amounts of data. What can you do with it all? Policy, campus brand, and legal restrictions may all dictate the decisions about how to collect and share data, what to collect, and why. A centralized data governance structure can help ensure you are leveraging data in a permissible and effective way.


Student record data is generally managed and stewarded by the registrar’s office, and the significance of that role has been compounded by the rise of big data; the development of tools, software, and cloud-based services to handle your data; and the application of regulations regarding the use of data, including GDPR.


“Vendors may be talking about the great things you can do to improve your services,” said Andrew Hannah, Senior Associate University Registrar. “But it comes back to what your institution will allow you to do with that data -- the concept of ‘data governance,’ which is about overseeing and providing guidelines to registrars and others on campus about how to exchange and share data securely.”


The importance of institution-wide guidelines

Data is a valuable asset, and how a school manages it can provide actionable analysis.


“For example, if you look at various metrics, a lot of it is data: retention rates, graduation rates, average student class size, ratio of students to faculty,” Hannah said. “These are all data points that are stewarded.”


Stewards need to be careful about how, when, and whether data is shared. Institutional guidelines are necessary to guide these decisions, and that’s why the University of Chicago developed the Data Stewardship Council, a formal committee authorized by the Board of Trustees. The council sets forth guidelines for not just the registrar, but for all major data sources across campus including information technology, human resources, research administration, alumni development, and more.  


Sharing the model: Who and what

In the decade since the Data Stewardship Council was founded, many schools have followed the University of Chicago’s model.  


“The University of Chicago is very much a data-driven institution,” said Scott Campbell, University Registrar at University of Chicago. “So we made sure the Council brings all the key players to the table at the same time to enhance our ability to maximize data sets, provide organizational insight, and give structure to the process.”


In addition to monthly meetings to establish policy and guidelines, the Council has a number of active workgroups (for example, regarding the security and sharing of confidential data on various types of media), as well as annual meetings to share important information with ancillary stakeholders in dozens of offices across campus.


“Another very popular and well-used effort of the council is a standardized request form that is used whenever an office on campus wishes to contract with a vendor,” Hannah said. “The data usage request form allows the requesting office to indicate what data they need, which system originates data, who will make sure the data is utilized in a secure and appropriate manner, how long will data be in the possession of the third party, is third party aware of compliance rules, and so on.”


The form both helps ensure data is appropriately utilized and raises general awareness about the considerations necessary when using data.


Bringing better governance to your campus

Campbell and Hannah are bringing their expertise and lessons learned regarding the University’s Data Stewardship Council to a special Innovation Hub session at the AACRAO Technology and Transfer Conference in July.


“Often sessions at AACRAO Tech will be designed from a technical perspective -- how to inform or display the many things institutions can do with data,” said Hannah. “But data governance helps guide what you should be doing -- what you’re allowed to do with data at your particular institution.”