What Does It Mean to Make Data Governance Fun?
By Robert Seiner
Published on January 19, 2023
The words “data governance” and “fun” are seldom spoken together. The term data governance conjures images of restrictions and control that result in an uphill challenge for most programs and organizations from the beginning. I define data governance as the “execution and enforcement of authority over the management of data.” Sounds fun… doesn’t it?
Yet data governance, and the need to raise stakeholder confidence in data, are typically serious subjects, especially if your business divisions are struggling to gain value from data. Or they are spending too much time preparing the data for proper use. Or the data potentially puts them at risk every day. These are serious challenges!
The journey from ungoverned to governed data is not without pain. Change is rarely easy or welcome. Often, leaders are under pressure to help people use data as a strategic asset but struggle with low levels of trust in that data. How can they make the change less painful? Accountability is easier when it is informal. Documentation has always been an afterthought. Is it possible to alleviate some of these pains … or dare I say … make data governance fun?
The answer is “yes” — to the “alleviate the pain” part of the question. Improving data intelligence through the automation, distribution, stewardship, and effective use of business and technical processes and metadata will certainly alleviate many of the pain points associated with governing data.
And yes, it is possible to make governance fun. This blog focuses on four key ways that organizations have made their data governance programs fun, entertaining, enjoyable, and competitive… while holding closely to their definitions of data governance.
One-way organizations have made data governance fun is by gamifying their governance program (or turning it into a game). An extension of this is to look at data governance as a puzzle with pieces that need to be completed in order to solve a problem.
Some organizations have voiced concern that turning data governance into a game may decrease the perception of its importance or reduce the seriousness of the task at hand. Therefore, attention must be paid to the messaging associated with gamifying data governance, assuring that the four ways addressed in this blog, are understood in terms of the business value they add.
So, what does this look like in practice? Some organizations have imitated the youthful contest of “Capture the Flag” by gamifying the concept into “Capture the Steward” and “Capture the Business Term.” These games are targeted at collecting and making available metadata that will enable people to find data and the people accountable for the data. Other organizations have turned their data governance frameworks into B-I-N-G-O boards to incentivize participation, later recognizing departments that complete squares with prizes.
Engaging people in your program is critical, and fun approaches abound. Data governance programs have implemented interactive surveys to engage people to vote on appropriate decisions or watch data governance-related videos and guess the correct answers to questions — while tallying scores and rewarding people for their interaction. Viewing and interacting with content can be rewarded to encourage people to become more data literate.
Gamifying data governance requires imagination and innovation. These activities benefit greatly from working with the communications, marketing, and change management specialists within your organization to gain assistance in getting the messaging right. These activities also require patience and tolerance from leadership as their attitudes and behavior toward data evolves.
Make Stewarding Something People Want to Do
People are busy with their day jobs. It is therefore important to connect what they are already doing with what is needed more formally instead of making data governance about a brand-new set of activities. People are already data stewards if they have an association with data and they are held formally accountable for the actions they take with data. Those actions include defining, producing, and using data.
Once people realize that they are already stewards of the data, the challenge is to get them interested in putting their best efforts into how well they define, produce, and use the data. Data governance programs can provide guidelines and detailed instruction on how to use data the way it is intended and allowed to be used (and not used). Aligning business to data definitions (and making templates and tools actionable) will help people produce more accurate insights and metadata. Data stewards require direction and definition for how they take action with data.
Data governance leaders cannot assume that people will establish quality and governance habits without guidance from the program or some other source. Data governance programs must provide frameworks, policies, guidelines, and standards that are shared with the businesspeople of the organization in order for these people to actively govern the data they define, produce, and use. This must then be checked and elevated on a regular basis. It can’t be a one-and-done.
Programs must also communicate the value of WIIFM (“what’s in it for me”) from the perspective of every individual the program engages. This includes sponsors, management, owners, and stewards. Therefore, it is critical for organizations to know who these people are, record those details, and make that information available. People must understand the benefits they, and the organization, will receive from improved definition, production, and use of data. This knowledge will encourage people to get involved. Eventually, tying this into visible individual and team objectives will make it most seamlessly part of the steward’s day-to-day work.
Create Friendly Competition
The third way to make data governance fun is to create friendly competition. This can be both a challenge and reward when applied to data in the workplace. Competition can lead to improvements in how your data is governed.
Organizations have advanced levels of data documentation and stewardship by revealing departmental efforts and rewarding the departments that shows the most improvement. Organizations have apportioned resources to projects that demonstrate the highest level of preparedness, education, and data discipline. Governance activities that extend beyond departmental “norms” can been measured and included in competition.
However, competition requires the coordination of activities to compare and report how parts of the organization are governing their data. These comparisons (and how they are judged) must be meaningful in terms of business value, urgency, and often, quantifiable results. These comparisons must also reward all positive activity and not just that of the victors.
Organizations generate friendly competition in several ways. Competition focused on the definition, production, and usage of data make up most of the examples. Competition can be based on the number of critical data elements (CDEs) defined by divisions and departments — or the number of stewards recognized and onboarded — or the inventory, quality and management of data resources, reports, and data projects. Friendly competition is often based on quantifiable measures that are attributable to people and groups. Organization-wide dashboards that show progress on a cadence are successful at creating engagement… no one wants to be part of the team that’s lagging behind!
Another way to craft friendly competition is to identify individuals or groups that have accomplished milestone tasks, recognizing these people for the governing actions they have taken. Organizations have gone so far as anointing people as “deputy” data stewards (complete with a silver badge), highlighting a “steward of the month” or “department of the month” as an individual or group that has a measurable impact on the governance of data across the organization.
There are several ways to report the results of friendly competition. The only limitation is an organization’s imagination and willingness to explore unique ways to share. Examples of ways organizations have publicized results include through the data catalog, through the “home” page for your data governance program, through organizational announcements, all hands meetings, and through the use of monitors or signage that recognize the person(s) or group(s) as winners or leaders.
Provide Rewards and Recognition
The final way to make data governance fun is to recognize and reward people in a way that entices, encourages, entertains and amuses, while also educating people on the value of formally governing their data.
Rewards do not need to be financial. Meaningful rewards like recognition amongst peers, additional time-off, dress-down days, departmental celebrations, and other similar incentives have been used with great effect for years. Other non-financial rewards may include improved quality of data leading to improved departmental decision making, better understanding of — and confidence in — the data, more knowledge of available data and where to find it… wait … these are all rewards of well-governed data! You get my point.
Recognition must be based on positive business outcomes. These outcomes result from resolving issues and addressing opportunities to improve. Beyond recognition through reward, shared internal recognition of the value gained by the person(s) and department(s) leads to other people and departments asking, “if the data governance program assisted them that way, can data governance assist me (and my department) that way as well?”. This perception enhances the favorable view of data governance within the organization.
In terms of reward and recognition, there is not always a single winner. While having a winner can be fun, the true winner of making data governance fun is the organization as a whole.
The word “governance” implies domination and control. Data governance sounds scary, difficult, and invasive because it implies restriction, control, and constraint around data. The truth is that the data will not govern itself. The data will not protect itself, improve in quality, enhance people’s confidence, improve efficiency and effectiveness on its own.
The same can be said about metadata — that data that enables people to gain value from their data. If people need to govern, making it bearable and — dare I say fun — this “fun” direction is one that many organizations should consider taking.
This blog focused on what it means to move away from the invasive implications of governance to make data governance more fun and less imposing to the organization. Consider turning data governance into a game, building directed stewarding practices into people’s jobs, creating internal friendly competition, and rewarding people for the ways they are governing data in order to make data governance fun.
Are you eager to make governance fun within your own organization? Watch my recent game-show themed webinar “Data Governance Takes a Village (So Why Is Everyone Hiding?)” to learn how to build a “village” of stakeholders throughout your organization to execute a data governance program.
- Gamify Governance
- Make Stewarding Something People Want to Do
- Create Friendly Competition
- Provide Rewards and Recognition