May 31 2018

Q&A: Notre Dame’s Chris Frederick on the Role of Data Governance Policy on Campus

Questions of trust and risk can guide and inform data access decisions in higher education.

Chris Frederick, business intelligence manager for the University of Notre Dame, is the program director for dataND, the university’s business intelligence effort. The program, launched five years ago, makes data broadly available to campus decision-makers.

Frederick recently spoke with EdTech about the university’s adoption of data governance policies, including decisions about who has access to university data.

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EDTECH: What is data governance?

FREDERICK: If you were to ask how many students we have, different groups might give you five different answers. One thing we wanted to do was to get everyone on the same page. We need to be working from a source that we all trust and agree on, so we don’t argue over the data. To do that, we really need to make sure we have data governance. That refers to several tasks, including defining what the data is and making sure we agree on how we can use this data and who should have access.

EDTECH: How did you achieve this?

FREDERICK: We failed in the beginning. The first thing we did was we fell on our faces. We tried to build a data warehouse by partnering with two groups on campus, and we couldn’t agree on the data definitions and populations that went into it. Only one department ultimately used the solution, and we ended up with yet another data silo. Upon reflection, it became clear that we didn’t agree as a campus about how to talk about our data. To resolve this issue, we hired a campus data steward who helped us mediate and come to a common understanding about the data. That was the thing that made the biggest difference. If we hadn’t done that, I don’t think we would have been successful.

EDTECH: How do you decide who has access to the data?

FREDERICK: At first, it was difficult to determine who should be able to see what data because we didn’t have any guiding principles to help us make those determinations. We created a set of 12 guiding principles to give guidance to our data steward. One of the principles is to start with a presumption of trust of those who have access to data. Instead of asking whether there is a business need to access the data, we ask if there is a risk to the university. That is a big difference. 

The goal is to more broadly make data available. Those with access to data are provided training, and tight restrictions are in place when data could pose significant harm to the university. You have to do this governance work to figure out how to determine what you can share. That’s just as important as determining the data you have.

EDTECH: Is there an example of data that is not shared?

FREDERICK: We are a private institution, and we have a strong commitment not to share salary information unless there is a business need — those who work in finance, for example. But we don’t want to restrict access because we are afraid of drama. Drama does not equal damage. So, we do publish square footage of rooms. Faculty could see if their offices are bigger or smaller than another faculty member’s. That could be drama, but is that a reason to restrict that information? No.

EDTECH: Has dataND improved decision-making at the University of Notre Dame?

FREDERICK: In general, we’re able to make better decisions. One thing that’s key is that we have data from different data domains next to each other. For example, if the university wanted to build a residence hall, we could predict the long-term costs by blending different data among data domains.

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