Dear Laura: Data Democratization

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Click to learn more about author Laura Madsen.

Welcome to the Dear Laura blog series! As I’ve been working to challenge the status quo on Data Governance – I get a lot of questions about how it will “really” work. I’ll be sharing these questions and answers via this DATAVERSITY® series. Last year I wrote the book “Disrupting Data Governance” because I firmly believe that poor Data Governance programs are getting in the way of data programs being as successful as possible.


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Read the most recent blog posts in this series here and here.

“Dear Laura,

I see the value of democratization of data, but it seems like balancing it with the trust of the organization would be an issue. What have you seen that works?

Unsure in Utah”

Hi, Unsure!

I can tell by your question that you are a veteran of building data capabilities. Yes, it’s true that while the idea of data democratization is the right one, the ability to execute can be a different story altogether. My favorite definition of value is “the transference of trust” from Simon Sinek.  We will talk about how to balance this trust in two examples.

For a long time, trust was the primary concern and we spent so much time “protecting” our data from the inherent misunderstandings that democratization dangled there helpless. Oddly, the discussion of trust we just reviewed requires action, a trade of value, if you will. As we held data hostage for “its own good” we were damaging the trust of our end-users. 

It is a balance, and any good balance requires some give and take. I know it’s difficult, especially if like me you have experienced scenarios where people did questionable stuff with data (no, you should not sum averages). So, the first balancing act we must do is with those people that will use the data and invariably do something with it that we don’t want them to do. We have to trust that not only will they do their best, ask questions, and not throw us under the bus, we also have to trust that our organization won’t be punitive to data and analytic leaders when these things happen (spoiler alert: they will happen). 

Another transference experience happens when our end-users and stakeholders trust us to do all the right things with data. They trust us to provide high-quality data, to be good stewards of data, to not introduce implicit (or explicit) bias in the data. Trust, it turns out, goes both ways, it is very fragile, and it relies on a heavy dose of give and take. 

Part of the shift to data-driven cultures has to be the willingness to mess up. Because democratizing access to data will without exception lead to “screw-ups” and part of building trust is the way you respond to those screw-ups or issues. Respond with a resolute “Thank you, how can we make this right together?”

Think of trust as a verb. There are actions you must take to build it and others that you have to take to fix it. Not to get too mushy here but much like love, you need the will to give it and the grace to receive it. 

Do you have a question about Data Governance you’d like me to answer? Email me at Laura at viagurus dot com.

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