Everybody is a Data Steward. Get Over It – Again!

Everybody is a Data Steward. Get Over It – Again!

- by Bob Seiner, Expert in Data Management

Back in January of 2018, I published an article in The Data Administration Newsletter (TDAN.com) titled Everybody is a Data Steward; Get Over It! The article was both popular and controversial. The two stated criticisms were 1) that it wasn’t nice to tell people to “get over” anything, and 2) that if everybody is a data steward then nobody is a data steward. In response to 1) I apologize if I came across as being rude. And 2) I outright disagree.

The assertion that “… nobody is a data steward” fails to hold water within the framework of Non-Invasive Data Governance (NIDG). This approach pivots on the premise that anyone who interacts with data in any capacity – whether defining, producing, or using it – is inherently a steward of that data. This broad definition of stewardship is deliberate, aiming to foster a culture where data management responsibilities are universally recognized and integrated into everyday job functions.

Under NIDG, the formal accountability for data associated with an individual’s role ensures that data stewardship is not an abstract, assigned duty but a concrete, personalized responsibility. Rather than diluting the importance of data stewardship by making everyone a steward, NIDG emphasizes and clarifies the role each person plays in maintaining the integrity and utility of data, making the governance process more inclusive and effective.

By recognizing each individual’s interaction with data as a form of stewardship, NIDG promotes a widespread accountability framework that enhances overall data governance without the need for stringent control measures typically seen in traditional governance models. This approach ensures that data stewardship is not seen as a special designation for a select few but as a standard aspect of professional conduct for all. This broad participation helps in embedding data quality and compliance into the operational fabric of the organization, driving collective efforts towards data accuracy, legality, and usefulness. The NIDG approach inherently counters the notion that universal stewardship diminishes the role’s importance; instead, it strengthens and specifies the role each employee plays in safeguarding data as a valuable organizational asset.

Paradigm Shift

The Non-Invasive Data Governance (NIDG) approach offers a compelling paradigm shift compared to the Command-and-Control or Traditional approaches. That shift is the idea that everyone in an organization who interacts with data is, by virtue of their interaction, a steward of that data. This concept extends beyond the confines of traditional data governance models, which often limit stewardship to specific roles or individuals designated under more rigid Command-and-Control or traditional frameworks. NIDG democratizes the responsibility of data stewardship, fundamentally altering how organizations perceive and manage their data.

The NIDG approach operates on the principle that anyone who defines, produces, or uses data has an inherent accountability for its accuracy, privacy, and overall management. This accountability isn’t assigned or imposed from the top down, as seen in the Command-and-Control approach, nor is it a label simply attached to individuals as part of their job description, as often happens in traditional governance models. Instead, recognition as a data steward in NIDG is a natural extension of an individual’s daily interactions with data. This recognition is crucial as it shifts the perception of data governance from being a mandated task to an integral part of everyone’s job.

Recognition Over Assignment

Recognizing individuals as data stewards based on their relationship with data, rather than assigning these roles, has several advantages. First, it ensures that data governance is deeply embedded into the operational fabric of the organization. Employees become more naturally inclined to consider the implications of their data handling, leading to improved data quality and compliance as they understand their direct impact on the outcomes. This approach encourages a culture of accountability and transparency, as individuals recognize their part in the broader data ecosystem and see their contributions as critical to the organization’s data integrity.

The NIDG framework fosters a more engaged and proactive workforce. Since stewardship is linked to daily data-related activities, employees are more likely to take initiative in identifying and resolving data issues. This proactive engagement can lead to faster resolution of data quality problems, more innovative ideas for using data effectively, and a greater sense of ownership and pride in the organization’s data-driven achievements.

The Impact at Levels

In the NIDG approach, there are two levels of data stewards. The role of data domain stewards at the tactical level and operational data stewards is recognized not by imposition but through the acknowledgment of the natural data responsibilities that individuals already hold. Data domain stewards are those who oversee subject areas of data that span across multiple business functions. They are recognized for their expertise and accountability in managing the integrity, usability, and security of data within a particular domain, such as customer information, product data, or financial metrics.

These stewards play a pivotal role in setting data-related policies and standards that align with both organizational objectives and regulatory requirements. By anchoring their stewardship in the NIDG approach, domain stewards facilitate a seamless integration of governance practices across various departments, ensuring that data policies enhance rather than hinder operational effectiveness.

Operational data stewards, on the other hand, are typically those individuals embedded within specific business function or processes, accountable for the handling of data within their daily operations. In a NIDG setting, these stewards are recognized based on their direct interactions with data – whether in processing, maintaining, or reporting it. This recognition is crucial as it empowers them to take ownership of data quality and compliance at the grassroots level, making data governance a part of their routine activities rather than an additional burden. Operational data stewards ensure that the standards and policies devised at the domain level are practically applied, addressing the unique challenges and needs of their specific areas.

The NIDG approach thus ensures that data governance is embedded into the fabric of everyday business processes, enabling a culture where every data interaction is guided by governance principles, driven by the stewards at both the domain and operational levels.

Minimize Resistance

The NIDG approach minimizes the resistance often encountered with the introduction of new governance structures. By integrating stewardship into existing roles and responsibilities, organizations can avoid the pitfalls of disruptive changes, making the transition to comprehensive data governance smoother and more acceptable to all involved. Employees do not feel burdened by additional tasks; instead, they continue their regular duties with an enhanced focus on the quality and utility of the data they handle.

In essence, the NIDG approach to data stewardship brings numerous benefits. It empowers all employees to act as stewards of the data they interact with, enhancing the overall data culture within the organization. It breaks down silos by fostering cross-departmental collaboration and understanding of data processes, enriching both the data itself and the insights derived from it. Ultimately, recognizing rather than assigning data stewardship roles makes data governance a shared responsibility and a common goal, aligning it more closely with the strategic objectives of the organization.


By embracing the notion that everyone is a data steward, organizations can harness the collective power of their workforce to enhance data management practices and drive more effective, data-informed decisions. This is not just a shift in strategy but a cultural evolution towards greater data maturity and responsibility – a change that everyone in the organization should get over, again!

Non-Invasive Data Governance[tm] is a trademark of Robert S. Seiner and KIK Consulting & Educational Services

Copyright © 2024 – Robert S. Seiner and KIK Consulting & Educational Services