Wanted: Data Stewards — Drafting the Job Specs for A Re-imagined Data Stewardship Role

Stefaan G. Verhulst
Data Stewards Network
5 min readMar 13, 2023

--

Drafting the Job Specs for A Re-imagined Data Stewardship Role

(Thanks to Lisa Talia Moretti, Sampriti Saxena, and Andrew Zahuranec for their research support; and the alumni of the Data Stewards Executive Course for their input)

With the rapid datafication of our world and the ever-growing need to access data for re-use in the public interest, it’s no surprise that the need for data stewards is becoming increasingly more important every day. Organizations across sectors and geographies, from the United Nations Statistics Division to the Government of New Zealand, are all moving towards defining the roles and responsibilities of a data steward within their own unique contexts and use cases.

At The GovLab, we have long advocated for the professionalization of data stewardship through our research into the role of data stewards in fostering data collaboration, as well as our executive education courses at the Data Stewards Academy. The recent launch of The Data Tank, a non-profit dedicated to addressing the challenges and opportunities of datafication, which I co-founded, is another step in the right direction, creating a platform to explore data stewardship in practice and providing additional educational resources.

While these resources are no doubt valuable, we are still often faced with the question: What are the required competencies of a data steward? If I want to hire or train a data steward, what should the job specifications be?

With that in mind, we are initiating a process of crafting a job description for data stewards, outlining the responsibilities, skills, and behaviors of a data steward below. Such a job description may not only help organizations create formal data steward roles internally and recruit externally, but it will also help aspiring data stewards seek out the relevant training and opportunities for them to strengthen their skillset.

The job description below captures our initial thoughts on the role of a data steward, and we would welcome your insights on the roles and skills required to be an effective data steward. It is based on previous presentations shared publicly.

If you would be interested in joining us for a discussion focused on professionalizing data stewardship in practice, please contact us at: datastewards@thegovlab.org.

WANTED: DATA STEWARD

JOB PURPOSE

Data stewards seek to accelerate data collaboration in a systematic, sustainable, and responsible way. As such, they are committed to collaborating with others, with the goal of unlocking the value of data when a clear case exists that it serves the public good and that data can be used responsibly. The role is focused on managing, providing access to, and sharing data ethically and responsibly. Stewards should strive to prevent harm to data subjects, the wider public, those individuals whose data may be accessed, and organizational interests. Lastly, Data Stewards are expected to proactively identify partners who may wish to engage in data collaborations that are informed by a compelling business case as well as create social value by advancing the use of insights generated through data collaboration.

RESPONSIBILITIES

The responsibility of a Data Steward is to ensure end-to-end responsibility for accessing and re-using data. This includes different stewardship functions including:

Stewarding Data and Questions: Data Audit, Assessment & Governance

  • Formulate or assess the question(s) or problem for which data is needed
  • Support with the identification and documentation of organizational data assets
  • Monitor and assess organizational data for value, potential and risk
  • Help formulate and determine organizational (the business case) and societal value propositions
  • Lead conversations on the ethical and fundamental rights implications of using, or not using, data
  • Help define operational, technical and governance requirements for data collaboration;
  • Help establish processes that allow for metrics to be captured and impact to be measured
  • Support with the scoping and iterating of “minimum viable” data assessments for partnerships

Stewarding Partners: Partnership and Community Engagement

  • Identify, assess and engage potential partners
  • Establish and operate a policy of transparency and active engagement to foster trust between the organization and data-producing customers and communities
  • Establish procedures and engagement models in order to create and sustain an organization’s social license for data re-use
  • Keep partners and beneficiaries informed and up-to-date on insights generated from data initiatives
  • Engage with legal and policy stakeholders to help create data and other contractual agreements
  • Help establish a “social license” for data re-use

Stewarding Internal Processes and Resources: Internal Coordination and Data Operations

  • Establish and maintain internal data ecosystem maps so that organizational resources, expertise, and skills can be identified and matched to data collaboration opportunities
  • Engage with data product and insight owners in order to develop interoperable and coordinated ways of working
  • Keep stakeholders informed on stewarding activities and lead the necessary approval processes
  • Inform and engage with those that need to sign off on data sharing agreements or initiatives

Stewarding Sustainability: Nurture and Sustain Data Collaboratives

  • Lead and nurture data innovation initiatives by helping to establish the necessary organizational infrastructure and budget that allows for the creative and responsible use of data to flourish
  • Define and develop business cases for data access, sharing, and re-use
  • Measure and assess the impact and outcomes of data initiatives
  • Develop funding proposals and reach out to those that may be interested in supporting the data collaborative

Stewarding Insights: Disseminate Outcomes and Communicate Activities

  • Be the organization’s point of contact regarding data initiatives and represent the organization on these matters at events, within the media, and among decision-makers, partners, and the public
  • Ensure the timely release of impact stories and support the creation of marketing assets that communicate insights and outcomes to targeted audiences

PERSONAL PROFILE

The role of the Data Steward favors individuals who possess the following skills and behaviors.

Skills

  • Knowledge of data governance, principles and concepts
  • Knowledge of how to create data definitions and standards, determine business data requirements and business rules
  • Knowledge of human-centered design or design thinking and experience of implementing these methodologies
  • Experience of how to improve data quality and resolving data gaps, asymmetries and other identified deficiencies
  • Experience in initiating, launching, sustaining and scaling partnerships across sectors
  • Excellent communication skills and the ability to convey information clearly to both business and technical audiences
  • Excellent interpersonal skills with the ability to build and sustain relationships and work effectively with others
  • Ability to leverage multiple data tools to create and maintain necessary data stewardship outputs

Behaviors

  • Critical thinking problem-solver who is curious by nature
  • Capable of being decisive and has a balanced relationship with risk
  • Strong communicator and listener who likes to initiate conversations
  • Has good interpersonal skills and is motivated to build and nurture relationships
  • Has the ability to see the big picture as well as be interested in the details

If you have any suggestions to improve the above job specification that can help reimagine and professionalize data stewardship in practice, please contact us at: datastewards@thegovlab.org.

--

--