With entire schools and school systems online, this year education entities stand to collect more data than they could have ever imagined, anticipated, or, quite frankly, desired; and to paraphrase Spiderman, with great data comes great responsibility. As education leaders grapple with the learning impacts of this novel virus, they will need to find a way to manage the influx of student, parent, and family data entering their systems. As such, countless systems are turning to Data Governance: the practices, policies, and processes set to ensure that data usability, integrity, and privacy are maintained within an organization. While Data Governance is typically centered around decision making regarding the management of data, that centering should be grounded in the overall priorities of the agency. If that includes equity (hint: it should), policies and processes can and should also be rooted in equity. Below you will find a few ways to ensure that grounding takes place in your own Data Governance practice.
Start with Equity in Mind
Some education organizations were lucky enough to have a robust Data Governance practice in place before the pandemic started, but most were not. Some organizations were in their infancy, others were finding their sea legs, and a great many were just warming up to the idea. For those who are just getting their practice off the ground, there is a great opportunity to stop and do an equity check. As you are developing your charter, organizing your committee, assigning data sets, and choosing your stewards, owners and champions, take the time to incorporate equity in every step. This means having a diverse representation of board members, expressed commitments to equity and diversity in your founding documents, and the incorporation of that representation and commitment in every practice, policy, and process set forth. Starting with equity in mind will help keep equity in mind.
A Use Case for Equity
One of the key functions of a Data Governance Committee is to ensure that there are use cases for the data being collected within the organization, especially new data collections.* As the committee creates a process for the collection of these data, it can do so with equity in mind. First, the committee can create a policy or process that encourages data managers to interrogate their own data use cases. When building or defining a use case for data, managers may be asked: “Why are we collecting these data and what decision(s) will we make with them? Are these data something we need or want? What do we think we learn from these data and who will that learning serve?” Creating a process for data managers to pressure test the use of certain data, especially student and family demographic data, student health data grades, or attendance, can encourage data managers to explore more equitable framings of questions. Next, the committee can work to ensure that the data collected matches the proposed use cases. This second layer of accountability will ensure that data managers are asking the right questions to use data in the most equitable way.
Share with Care
A good Data Governance practice will eventually lead to policies and practices that allow data to be more readily shared and used across groups. But just because data can be shared doesn’t necessarily mean they should be. Aside from the legal and ethical parameters of data sharing, agencies should exercise caution not to allow certain data to paint a misleading picture or create false narratives of certain populations. The right data can fall into the wrong hands and potentially harm the communities that entrust agencies with their most vulnerable information. Committees can create policies that ensure they are sharing data with entities that will use this powerful asset with care and concern and in a way that promotes the highest ideals of respect and equity. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has a toolkit that can help organizations get started.
Govern with Equity
Above all else, it is imperative that the committee makes its own decisions with equity at the forefront as a model for the entire agency. The committee not only sets the standards, they model the expectations in their leadership and governance. Governing with equity means interrogating their own biases, owning up to when they get it wrong, and finding ways to make it right and get it right going forward.
* A data use case documents a specific use for a set of data to answer a particular question using data.