Data stewards, not data despots

basotho cavesThis old baSotho story was shared by a friend of mine.

“During the droughts of the late 1700’s. The country was under attack from marauding bands and a man suggested that the entire tribe stockpile its food and water on a cliff cave that can only be accessed by ropes. So every field was ripped and every store was opened and the food was hoisted up onto the cave. People agreed to this and the man said because it was his idea he by right be allowed to be its steward.

The people agreed and allowed him to climb to the stockpile. As soon as he was at the top he cut the ropes and declared that any person who wanted water and food would have to pay. Soon there was a famine in the land. There he sat getting fat and increasing the prices only coming out to defecate on the people below some in their hunger and desperation even mistook that for food. He did not care as he had all the power.

Then a young man was lead by his hunger far away and on his path he was set upon by a marauding tribes of cannibal and they looked at him all skin and bones. They asked him about how this came to be and he told him his sorry tale. Then they asked him to give directions to this cave where such a plump juicy creature lived. When he had given them all the information they needed they cut his throat and cooked him. After the meal they set out to the cave.

The climbed up on the back of the mountain and lowered ropes into the cave mouth as the man slept. They cut his throat and cooked his bones for soup. The people who watched below rejoiced and their deliverance.

Then the cannibal chief said I can see you are all hungry and you will all have food the price is a single child each month who will be our food so you can have bread…

And so it goes with saviors”

What is the link to data stewardship?

The other day I was in conversation with a senior manager when he began discussing one of the data stewards.

“Whenever I see Bob, I hide my face and hurry past. I pretend I haven;t seen him. He isn’t helpful – he just creates problems.”


If your stewards are seen as despots then governance has failed!

This kind of problem can be caused by stewards who do focus on theoretical principles rather than business priorities.

However, it is more likely that this kind of problem is caused by a siloed approach to governance.

When different business users have differing priorities and there is no forum to collaborate and negotiate a compromise, then data stewards acting in the interests of one area will create conflict in other areas

The natural result?

People will find ways to get what they need by bypassing the data stewards. Governance will fail.

There are times when data governance will have to say “No.”

There are unacceptable uses of data that will expose the organisation to legal action, damage its reputation, or result in regulatory fines.

These exceptions should be clearly defined in enterprise policies and communicated to all data stakeholders.

But these are exceptions. Data governance should also facilitate acceptable use policies, and go out of its way to support reasonable business goals.

Communication, negotiation and, above all, a willingness to work with people to deliver value are critical attributes of successful data stewards!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.