Data Governance Equals People Governance

Data Governance Equals People Governance

- by Bob Seiner, Expert in Data Management

A good friend of mine once told me that we should not call our beloved discipline “Data Governance” … and that “People Governance” was a more appropriate label. His reasoning … “The data does what we tell it to do, and it is truly people’s behavior that must be governed”. That statement made a lot of sense when he shared it with me then and still resonates with me today. I didn’t name my friend because, ultimately, he does not remember making that comment. Either way, there is truth in the idea of People Governance. Let me explain.

Data governance has emerged as an axis around which many business operations and strategic decisions revolve. However, at its core, the effectiveness of data governance hinges not on the sophistication of technologies deployed or the rigidity of policies legislated but on the engagement, commitment, and collaboration of the people within the organization. This article explores how data governance, in essence, equates to People Governance, with a spotlight on steward and leadership engagement under the guidance of Non-Invasive Data Governance (NIDG) best practices.

Non-Invasive Data Governance is a methodology that emphasizes the engagement of existing organizational roles and responsibilities in governing data. Unlike traditional data governance frameworks that often impose new structures and roles, NIDG works within the existing fabric of the organization, making the NIDG Framework inherently people centric. It acknowledges that data governance is not merely about managing data but about governing the people who use, manage, and make decisions based on that data.

People-Centric Approach

At the heart of this people-centric approach are the data stewards. These individuals are not assigned in an ad hoc manner but are recognized based on the data-related roles they already play within their day-to-day functions. The NIDG approach empowers these stewards with the authority, responsibility, and tools they need to ensure data is managed effectively, efficiently, and ethically. By aligning their roles with data governance objectives, stewards become pivotal in bridging the gap between high-level governance policies and ground-level operational practices.

Leadership engagement, on the other hand, is the linchpin that secures the data governance structure firmly within the organizational culture. Leaders, from executives to department heads, play a critical role in championing the cause of data governance. Their commitment is instrumental in fostering a culture that values data as a strategic asset and recognizes the importance of its governance. By actively participating in data governance initiatives, setting clear expectations, and embodying the principles of NIDG, leaders inspire trust and enthusiasm across all levels of the organization.

Adopting NIDG best practices requires a shift in perspective—from viewing data governance as a series of mandates to seeing it as a cultural philosophy that infuses every facet of the organization. This involves clear and continuous communication about the value and objectives of data governance, training and education to ensure everyone understands their role in it, and the creation of a collaborative environment where ideas and challenges can be shared openly.

Community of Practice

The inclusion of a Data Governance Community or Center of Practice (CoP) significantly amplifies the “Data Governance Equals People Governance” narrative, especially under the NIDG approach. This addition nurtures a holistic environment where data governance transcends mere policy enforcement, embedding itself into the cultural fabric of the organization through collective wisdom, shared practices, and mutual learning.

A Data Governance Community of Practice, when aligned with NIDG principles, serves as a vibrant ecosystem where stakeholders across the organization – data stewards, IT professionals, business users, and executives—converge to share knowledge, experiences, and best practices. This collaborative platform enables the democratization of data governance, making it a shared responsibility rather than a top-down mandate. It’s within this community that the true essence of people governance is realized, as it fosters a sense of belonging, participation, and ownership among its members.

The CoP acts as a catalyst for cultural change, facilitating the transition towards a data-informed organization. By engaging members through regular meetings, workshops, and forums, the community ensures that data governance is continuously aligned with evolving business objectives and technological advancements. This dynamic engagement helps in maintaining the relevance and effectiveness of data governance initiatives, ensuring they adapt to internal and external pressures.

Moreover, the CoP under NIDG promotes a non-invasive integration of data governance into daily operations. It respects and utilizes the existing organizational structure, minimizing resistance and fostering a positive perception of data governance. Through the community, data governance becomes less about compliance and more about enhancing business performance, data quality, and decision-making. The non-invasive nature of NIDG, combined with the supportive environment of the CoP, empowers individuals at all levels to contribute to and benefit from effective data governance practices.

The community also plays a crucial role in identifying and addressing the training and development needs of its members. Tailored educational programs and resources ensure that everyone, from seasoned data professionals to those new to data governance, can enhance their understanding and skills. This continuous learning environment not only elevates individual competencies but also strengthens the organization’s collective data governance capabilities.

In essence, the Data Governance Community or Center of Practice (or Excellence) embodies the spirit of people governance within the realm of NIDG. It provides a structured yet flexible framework for collaboration, innovation, and shared responsibility. Through its activities, the community not only advances the organization’s data governance objectives but also cultivates a culture where data is recognized as a pivotal asset for achieving strategic goals. By fostering an inclusive, informed, and engaged community, organizations can ensure that their data governance initiatives are not only effective but also enduring and aligned with the broader objectives of people governance.


The implementation of NIDG highlights the importance of recognizing and leveraging the informal networks and relationships that exist within organizations. By harnessing these existing connections, and governing people’s behavior in addition to the data itself, data governance initiatives can be more effectively disseminated and ingrained within the organization. This approach fosters a sense of ownership and accountability among all stakeholders, making data governance a shared responsibility.

The essence of effective data governance lies in its ability to govern people and their interactions with data. Through the principles of Non-Invasive Data Governance, organizations can cultivate a data governance framework that is not only effective and sustainable but also deeply integrated into the organizational culture. Steward and leadership engagement are paramount in this endeavor, as they embody the human elements that drive the success of data governance initiatives. By prioritizing people over processes and technologies, organizations can unlock the full potential of their data, guiding their journey toward data-driven excellence with wisdom, foresight, and collective effort.

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