Getting Started with Data Governance

min read

Four experts share their thoughts on successfully building data governance and overcoming resistance in higher education.

Desktop which has a notebook on it that says Data Governance.
Credit: Hadayeva Sviatlana / © 2024

In the EDUCAUSE Showcase webinar "Moving from Data Insight to Data Action," four data professionals shared how they developed data governance as the foundation for improved data analytics and increased trust in data for decision-making:

  • Tasha Almond-Dannenbring, Lead Data and Analytics Consultant and Sr. Strategic Project Manager, UNICON

  • Todd Barber, Executive Director, Enterprise Applications & Data Services, University of Tennessee Health Science Center

  • Melissa Barnett, Data Governance Manager, Georgia State University

  • Jared Pane, Director, Solutions Architecture, Elastic

  • Sophie White, Showcase Program Manager, EDUCAUSE (webinar facilitator)

Data governance is the foundation for analytics, allowing users to trust the data and the decisions it inspires. Through data governance, everyone can know what data the institution has, where data is held, who has access to it, and whether it is of high quality. Building data governance can be useful for increasing collaboration across organizational silos and overcoming challenges around trust. With data governance in place, data collection can be quicker because there is a common framework. Data management suffers without the appropriate governance and could fail miserably in a worst-case scenario. Gaps in data, data quality, data integrity, and compliance issues can be identified through appropriate data governance. Once data governance has been in place for some time, skepticism that the data is wrong begins to diminish. The governance framework provides the foundation for trust and the routine use of data analytics for evidence-based decision-making.

Data governance can be the mechanism for balancing the priorities of insight and privacy. Privacy is an increasingly important part of discussions around data. Maintaining data privacy, protecting data from unauthorized access, and complying with relevant regulations are all vital to governance. Although privacy is everyone's responsibility, it still needs leadership. Privacy leadership can be situated in different places depending on the institution. Some institutions have established Chief Privacy Officers (CPOs).Footnote1 In other instances, privacy resides in legal affairs. Often the responsibility sits with the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). Governance can provide the guardrails that allow the fair and correct usage of data and incorporate the privacy component.Footnote2

Strategies for Success in Developing Data Governance

Starting out in data governance, one can be easily overwhelmed and intimidated by the potential scale of data governance. Data governance is a journey and will take some time to build: patience is the key, and there will not be overnight success. One of the most powerful mechanisms for getting buy-in to data governance is demonstrating to people what is in it for them and providing value. Start small, and find a topic or area that can deliver a quick win. Begin with a clearly defined dataset and show those in the target audience that they can benefit from data insights to deliver outcomes (e.g., a better student experience) or deploy staff resources.

Draw on the expertise and experience of people who work in data governance internally and externally. Within an organization, consider forming a small reference group of key players and meet regularly. Externally, the EDUCAUSE Data Governance Community Group enables connections with people working in the data governance space and allows discussion of ideas and suggestions from various institutions.

Communication should be a key element of any data governance development strategy. Frequent and relevant communication becomes essential in an era of home or hybrid working. Communication can take many forms, from approaching an individual to sending a campus-wide newsletter. It may sound obvious, but adding a personal touch can be helpful. What are people's successes and challenges? What are their goals? What are their objectives? Where are their struggles? What does success look like? Develop a newsletter and provide a vehicle for others to get their messages out alongside those promoting data governance. Share successes widely so that others appreciate the benefits of data governance. Take the time to identify key players from all relevant areas of the institution—from analysts to organizational leaders—and make a plan to develop warm relationships.

Make it a mission to understand and influence the institutional culture.Footnote3 That understanding can pay dividends in identifying added value and learning how to implement robust data governance. Manage expectations regarding timescales and provide regular updates so that stakeholders feel informed and engaged. Over time, trust will grow, and reactions will become more favorable. Jointly develop a framework that clearly explains the importance and value of data governance so that people are working toward shared organizational goals rather than responding to personal requests.

Take heart from the fact that there is no right or wrong approach. Some institutions start from a top-down mandate, whereas others might begin with individual departments that want to improve data integrity and quality. Building blocks include definitions, a data dictionary, and quality, but the order of achievements is less important than working toward common goals that support data governance.Footnote4

Overcoming Resistance to Developing Data Governance

Many people will recognize the benefits of developing data governance, analytics, and action. Often, demonstrating value and fostering strong communication will open doors. However, others may ignore communications or even attack the ideas offered. The key to success in these situations is not taking resistance personally and showing resilience: identify what is causing the resistance and respond accordingly.

Unfortunately, data governance has a reputation for creating roadblocks and slowing processes, so understandably, people may not always want to prioritize governance work. One sidestep might be as simple as using a different description, such as "data guidelines," which might not be imbued with the same negative connotations.

Sometimes the causes of negativity arise from underlying and unvoiced concerns—for example, people who might feel they don't have the skills to deliver on this agenda. Training can not only empower and inform but also cultivate a culture of data-informed decision-making and help mitigate the possibility of data misuse or privacy breaches. Training can also be a doorway to consultation and dialogue on data governance issues.

Often an organization or department may not necessarily be against collaboration but simply isn't actively seeking collaboration opportunities. If resistance is encountered from individuals during the implementation of data governance initiatives, it is important to adapt based on the characteristics of the resistant individuals in order to overcome this resistance and foster collaboration. Emphasis should be placed on establishing connections and aligning goals. The following is a brief characterization of different types of resistant individuals and suitable approaches to engage them:

  • Resistors require persuasion and consistent communication. Changes in perspective can be induced by establishing ongoing connections and demonstrating the alignment of shared goals.
  • Challengers typically question the need to change existing approaches. The key to gaining their support is developing relationships and providing them with compelling evidence that justifies the proposed changes.
  • Naysayers hold deeply entrenched views and are unlikely to be swayed. It is crucial to recognize that attempting to persuade them may be futile. Instead, redirecting efforts and energy toward engaging with other individuals and/or waiting for circumstances to evolve may be more productive.

Acknowledge that resistance may be rooted in valid concerns that warrant attention. Actively listening and responding empathetically can address these concerns and gain support, thereby facilitating the establishment, improvement, and successful implementation of data governance initiatives.

Action Areas to Develop Data Governance

  • Complete and publicize some quick wins. The successful use of data insights to provide evidence-based decision-making can be a doorway to the discussion of data governance.

  • Incorporate your organization's privacy framework into data governance to allow a balance between insight and privacy.

  • Prioritize relationship building and joint goal-setting to ensure that stakeholders are on board with the data governance program.

  • Dedicate resources to various types of communication, demonstrating the benefits of data analytics and governance work and educating people about the role they can play. Communications can also be a tool to keep everyone appraised of what is on the horizon so that they feel part of the process and can contribute and prepare.


Data governance is vital for building trust in data, allowing organizations to move from data analytics to data insights and evidence-based decision-making. Building a data governance framework is an ongoing journey involving a wide range of people from across the institution.


  1. The EDUCAUSE Chief Privacy Officers Community Group has developed a welcome kit for CPOs in higher education: The Higher Education CPO Primer: A Welcome and How-To Kit for Chief Privacy Officers in Higher Education (EDUCAUSE, June 1, 2023). Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
  2. For additional information, see the Privacy topic in the EDUCAUSE Library. Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
  3. See Jason Simon and Melissa Barnett, "Beyond Tools and Technology: Why Culture-Focused Leadership Matters to Successful Data Governance," EDUCAUSE Review, October 24, 2023. Jump back to footnote 3 in the text.
  4. See Understanding and Developing a Data-Informed Culture (Advising Success Network and EDUCAUSE, May 16, 2022). Jump back to footnote 4 in the text.

The EDUCAUSE Showcase Series takes a closer look at the EDUCAUSE Top 10, spotlighting the most urgent issues identified each year by the higher education community alongside relevant tools and resources. Sarah Banks is a freelance writer and editor at Springtide Services.

© 2024 EDUCAUSE. The content of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.