NSOs Can Bring Their Existing Strengths to Data Stewardship
by Shaida Badiee
Once a niche topic, data stewardship again leapt to center stage at a special side-event of the 2023 UN Statistical Commission. In her presentation, Open Data Watch Managing Director, Shaida Badiee, challenges National Statistical Offices to leverage their experience with the fundamental principles of official statistics to strengthen data stewardship.
To answer the question about the challenges that data stewardship presents for National Statistical Offices (NSOs), I would first say that when NSOs begin work on data stewardship, they really start from their points of strength. In contrast, private sector groups launching work on data stewardship often don’t have experience with fundamental principles that official statistics have. They may have, for example, more fragmented data definitions and less rigorous data standards. They also may not have a peer network like NSOs have, or established open data guidelines, or other things that NSOs already incorporate. If you put it on a checklist — and you really need that for setting up the infrastructure for data stewardship – NSOs have points of strength that many of us who are always focusing on gaps when considering data stewardship should also really think about — all the assets that NSOs have and all the good things that they can bring to effective data stewardship.
In terms of the delta, and what we need in order to say that National Statistical Offices are really championing and taking charge of data stewardship, I think it is important to look at the overall concept as a change leadership function. All the research and background work we have done shows that data stewardship as a concept really works because of the new things it brings into the work of the NSOs. It brings NSOs’ technical, data governance, and data management skills, but also needs other kinds of communication and collaboration skills, like for community education, external collaboration, and coalition building. These in turn need new skills related to how to build support, how to manage resistance, how to build and sustain trust and so on. So this change leadership umbrella function of data stewardship, bringing together all these diverse but essential skills, has been very helpful to look at.
As for the challenges that governments have to overcome, and NSOs have to overcome, for data stewardship to arrive and thrive, one of the main ones that I have seen one is the concept of “going from NSO to NSS.” How do you actually keep the leadership, keep the data quality, keep all the core elements, but move the structure from NSO — just focusing on NSO — to the full national system? How do you bring in, for example, administrative data? How do you build data interoperability between different data sets in the government? Each is an important challenge, but again I think that if you start looking at it from the assets, skills and tools already in NSOs, the path forward is quite straight forward and clear.
Another big challenge – because of the traditional work of NSOs and even the kind of traditional international data work that I have done – users have not been the center of our work. This user-centric approach that we’re trying to bring with data stewardship, showing the value of data, is also something that we need to work on and really pay more attention to. It’s a challenge in many countries, often of course related to limited resources, but it’s really important for building and sustaining data stewardship efforts. We have some indications, in particular concerning open data and related user-centric work that, after initial efforts, some countries are backsliding. Moving ahead one step on data stewardship, data privacy and open data usage, and then sliding back into old ways is really a challenge that we should as a group be alert to and try to address.
A final point is that we must be able to measure the many things that we’re trying to do with data stewardship. If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. At the end of the day, to increase the value of data, to boost usage of data, to open more data for the public good, we must come together and agree among ourselves both to measure success and how to measure success. It is a challenge, but we are measurement people. I’m sure we can manage to do it.
Part 1 – Data Stewardship – What NSOs Can Do
Part 2 – How Data Governance, Management, and Stewardship Relate