data stewardship definition

What is data stewardship? Discussing data stewardship with seasoned data governance practitioners can yield different definitions and understandings of what it is. Some use the two terminologies, data governance and data stewardship, interchangeably, which can make it even more confusing. In my own opinion, they are definitely not the same.
For a revision on data governance definition, please read our “What is data governance” article.

Stewardship on its own is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care; ex: stewardship of natural resources”. – A lot of people would argue that data is an organization’s most valuable “resources”.

Similarly, Peter Block, defines stewardship as the “willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the larger organization by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us. Stated simply, it is accountability without control or compliance.” –  book: Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-Interest 

So what is data stewardship?

Data Stewardship is the discipline for defining, implementing, and enforcing the accountability and responsibility of the organization’s data stakeholders.

Data stewardship supports and formally acknowledges the accountability and responsibility of a data stakeholder, but with a need for these to align, meet, and follow the:

  • external legal and regulatory compliance
  • internal policies
  • business goals and pressures (usually financial or operational – sometimes technological)
  • strategy and structure laid out by the data governance program

Data stewardship can be considered a subset of data governance, and/ or an invaluable collaborator.

Now let’s look at other definitions out there, which will helpfully not confuse you more.

Other definitions

  • Data Governance Institute:

Data Stewardship is concerned with taking care of data assets that do not belong to the stewards themselves. Data Stewards represent the concerns of others. Some may represent the needs of the entire organization. Others may be tasked with representing a smaller constituency: a business unit, department, or even a set of data themselves. – link to definition

  • TDAN:
The formalization of accountability for the management of data resources. – link to definition
  • Danette McGilvray:
Data Stewardship is an approach to Data Governance that formalizes accountability for managing information resources on behalf of others and for the best interests of the organization. – link to definition
  • David Plotkin:
Data Stewardship consists of the people, organization, and processes to ensure that the appropriately designated stewards are responsible for the governed data. – link to definition
  • Larry English:
The willingness to be accountable for a set of information for the well-being of the larger organization by operating in service of, rather than in control of those around us. – link to definition
  • US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health:

Data stewardship denotes an approach to the management of data, particularly data, however gathered, that can identify individuals. Data stewardship can be thought of as a collection of data management methods covering acquisition, storage, aggregation, and deidentification, and procedures for data release and use.  – link to definition

  • US Geological Survey:

Stewardship equals taking responsibility for a set of data for the well being of the larger organization, and operating in service to, rather than in control of, those around us. – link to definition

As I mentioned, there are multiple definitions out there reflecting different interpretations of data stewardship. Whichever one you chose, make sure it is understood and adopted by the entire organization as every successful program starts with a common understanding of its definition.

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About the author 

George Firican

George Firican is the Director of Data Governance and Business Intelligence at the University of British Columbia, which is ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. His passion for data led him towards award-winning program implementations in the data governance, data quality, and business intelligence fields. Due to his desire for continuous improvement and knowledge sharing, he founded LightsOnData, a website which offers free templates, definitions, best practices, articles and other useful resources to help with data governance and data management questions and challenges. He also has over twelve years of project management and business/technical analysis experience in the higher education, fundraising, software and web development, and e-commerce industries.

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