I’m not a big fan of trends. I walked through Target yesterday in search of something (or nothing, who really knows) and saw the summer clothes for the trend-obsessed. Trust me when I tell you I will not be wearing abdomen-freeing tank tops this summer. 

Trends in data are similar. I’ve been around long enough to have considered at one point data literacy to be a trend. It had staying power though, and Gartner was recently quoted as saying it’s the second primary concern of the chief data officers (their first is everything else, but that’s the trouble with being a CDO). In Disrupting Data Governance, I shared that I see data literacy as a bellwether for the new/old shiny data governance programs. Like reality TV, data governance is the thing you love to hate. Be that as it may, data governance is finally being given a makeover and is predicted to be a $5.1 billion industry by 2024.

Where literacy and governance intersect

So, what do trends, data literacy, and data governance have in common? This week my colleague Serena Roberts and I sat down to Venn diagram out where data literacy and data governance overlapped. Initially we stumbled a bit. Let’s say we all agree that data literacy, generally, “…is the ability to read, understand, create, and communicate data as information” (Wikipedia) and data governance, generally, “…is the orchestration of people, processes, and technology to manage the company’s critical data assets by using roles, responsibilities, policies, and procedures to ensure the data is accurate, consistent, secure, and aligns with the overall company objectives” (Gartner). 

On the face of it, data literacy and data governance don’t have much in common except the word data, but it isn’t that simple. I know from experience that organizations that do data governance well have some kind of education or training associated with it, some ways of helping those working in data governance to read, understand, create, and communicate data as information. The needs are distinct from those that participate in data literacy programs, though.

Where does Data Governance Literacy fit in?

We considered that perhaps it was a 101 and a 201 scenario, as in data literacy is a 101 class and data governance literacy is a 201 is a course, for the advanced. After I thought about it, it occurred to me that it is not a 101/201 problem. Data literacy and data governance are distinct efforts with their own goals. To me, data literacy intends to increase self-service. Data governance literacy intends to help your organization either achieve or maintain its data-driven status. Data literacy is about improving individual skillsets for the greater good while data governance literacy is about improving the greater good for the organization. Will individual skillsets be improved if data governance literacy is successful? Sure, but that’s a by-product, not the end goal. 

What is the definition of data governance literacy?

“Data governance literacy is the ability to define data and the parameters of data quality, understand the provenance of the data, and champion protection to serve as a catalyst in a data-driven organization.” – Moxy Analytics
The goal of data governance literacy is to ensure that your data owners, data stewards, and others that work in data governance have the skills they need to define data, set parameters, understand lineage (and its implications), and champion protection. Even if you’ve worked as a data analyst these functions are often distinct from most other activities in data. 

Before you roll your eyes and express frustration at yet another damn thing you must do, successful data governance programs have been doing this all along. It is the function of training staff to be successful in data governance. Now, we just have a name and definition for it. But what we also have is an understanding that it is something that you should be doing if you have a data governance program. If you’ve wondered why you have struggled to be successful with data governance and have followed all the better practices but still can’t seem to get where you’re going, and don’t have something that supports data governance literacy, now you know why you’re not gaining traction.

What are the next steps in adopting this into your data governance framework? Assess what you do have that can serve as part of a data governance literacy program. Ask your data stewards what resources would be beneficial.  And don’t fault yourself if you feel trendy.