The growth of digital technology in today’s world is almost a living thing, evolving daily through innovations like artificial intelligence and Big Data collection and generation techniques. With never before seen technology comes the need for never before created roles, such as that of the data steward.
The responsibility of a person in charge of data stewardship is crucial. They manage the data that is housed in an organization, and one mistake could mean a security breach worth millions of dollars in damage. The position of the data steward in the academic framework is often overlooked in importance, but without someone completing this role with ethics, integrity, and thoroughness, the entire organization could be in danger of illegal practices. Understanding the role of a data steward helps everyone to know what it takes to use and store data in an academic landscape.
What is a Data Steward?
As a data steward, the person in this role is the one everyone turns to for answers to questions about their data usage. The data steward must be intimately familiar with every aspect of the collection, maintenance, and organization of data, including what types of data are necessary and which information isn’t, how long to store the data before purging it, and how to keep the quality of data storage up-to-date and secure.
This role isn’t exceedingly difficult if there is a one or two level of access, but when a research project gets complex, with multiple people sharing data, the policies, procedures, and legal requirements protecting that information also becomes complicated. It’s the role of the data steward to determine who gets rights to what data and to enforce those who access the information to be held accountable for following all guidelines and policies.
A Data Stewardship Model in the Academic Framework
There is no specific model that is universal for all data stewards, but a typical description of this position in the academic framework would ensure that the information is available to researchers to use competitively in a global market, would help to create a better attribution of value to the institution, and would be securely kept, following all guidelines at every stage of use.
Data stewardship models would work similarly to this layout:
● The data stewards would work with the researchers to understand the foundation of the project and help to guide those involved as to what they could expect from the information available. With their knowledge of policies and laws, the data steward would inform stakeholders and everyone involved, and work with compliance departments, to warn of any potential obstacles that might be faced along the way to the final outcome.
● Once the obstacles are pointed out, the data steward would work with the researchers and stakeholders to find ways to overcome them. This could require forming groups to work through each challenge, complete paperwork to request data access along the proper channels, and find other means to obtain similar information if a dead-end is hit.
● When the research is cleared to begin, the data steward’s job takes on a new level. They must be available to provide access to data to those who are allowed to access it, to monitor the data usage and security, to assess how the data is being shared, and update the accessibility of information as necessary.
When a data steward isn’t involved in an immediate research project, they must continually work towards improving security and quality standards, staying up with policy changes, and checking for old data to purge.
The Requirements Necessary to Become a Data Steward
Since the data steward’s job is so important to the entire organization and stakeholders, it’s not a job that is easily attained. Someone right for this position would have qualities such as:
● A background in computer programming
● Common sense judgment calls during high-pressure determinations
● Proficiency in storing and organizing databases
● An understanding of data warehousing and modeling
● A strong ability to compile technical writing
● A technical education from a reputable school
● An innate understanding of business sense
● The ability to be a forward-minded thinker to predict and move past potential challenges before they happen
While a data steward isn’t usually the first person labeled as important in an academic institution, the truth is that they are integral to everyone’s job and are just as necessary, if not more so, than many of the faculty on the campus.