Data Stewardship: The Way Forward in the New Digital Data Landscape

Essay by Courtney Cameron: “…It is absolutely critical that Statistics Canada, as a national statistical office (NSO) and public service organization, along with other government agencies and services, adapt to the new data ecosystem and digital landscapeCanada is falling behind in adjusting to rapid digitalization, exploding data volumes, the ever-increasing digital market monopolization by private companies, foreign data harvesting, and in managing the risks associated with data sharing or reuse. If Statistics Canada and the federal public service are to keep up with private companies or foreign powers in this digital data context, and to continue to provide useful insights and services for Canadians, concerns of data digitalization, data interoperability and data security must be addressed through effective data stewardship.

However, it is not sufficient to have data stewards responsible for data: as data governance expert David Plotkin argues in Data Stewardship: An Actionable Guide to Effective Data Management and Data Governance, government departments must also consult these stewards on decisions about the data that they steward, if they are to ensure that decisions are made in the best interests of those who get value from the information. Frameworks, policies and procedures are needed to ensure this, as is having a steward involved in the processes as they occur. Plotkin also writes that data stewardship involvement needs to be integrated into enterprise processes, such as in project management and systems development methodologies. Data stewardship and data governance principles must be accepted as a part of the corporate culture, and stewardship leaders need to advise, drive and support this shift.

Finally, stewardship goes beyond sound data management and standards: it is important to be mindful of the role of an NSO. Public acceptability and trust are of vital importance. Social licence, or acceptability, and public engagement are necessary for NSOs to be able to perform their duties. These are achieved through practising data stewardship and adhering to the principles of open data, as well as by ensuring transparent processes, confidentiality and security, and by communicating the value of citizens’ sharing their data…With the rapidly accelerating proliferation of data and the increasing demand for, and potential of, data sharing and collaboration, NSOs and public governance organizations alike need to reimagine data stewardship as a function and role encompassing a wider range of purposes and responsibilities…(More)”.

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