Does Your Organisation Need A Data Whistleblower?


Does your organisation need data ‘whistleblowers’? You may think that there’s enough noise about data as it is.  Sometimes, data quality in an organization is bad, but nobody takes any ownership. Improvements can permeate through the whole organisation by proposing that organisations sometimes need a data ‘whistleblower’ to expose the issues.

What is a whistleblower? Well, a data whistleblower is basically an individual who raises issues, sometimes subversively.

A data ‘whistlerblower’ is a ‘go to’ person, to whom employees can raise issues around data quality.  It’s basically a role, which denotes someone whom anyone can go to, in order to express a confidential concern about the quality of a piece data. There could be more than one whistleblower, for example; you could have one for each department.

Alternatively, team members could take turns to be the data whistleblower. This might help to promote adoption of data as a corporate-wide asset, in which it is everyone’s interest to protect and maintain assiduously.

There are different ways in which this role could function. As a technical function, it could be as simple as setting up a wiki or a post-it noticeboard where people can go and record data quality issues anonymously or publicly. Alternatively, a more formal approach could be taken, whereby the data ‘whistleblower’ will take the collated data issues to a monthly business intelligence meeting. Results and feedback regarding data quality issues could be given via a SharePoint portal, or a monthly email newsletter.

Why might you need a data whistleblower? In my experience, I’ve seen cases where team members don’t feel that they can raise data quality issues with source data owners, because it is simply too political and contentious, and they don’t want to be in the firing line.  This could be an indicator of the ‘Anger’ stages in Data Quality: please read Jim Harris’ blog for more details on the Data Quality stages.

I’ve also seen cases of the Bystander Effect in data quality. The ‘Bystander Effect’ is where people don’t intervene to help when they see a problem, perhaps because they think that the problem is so well-known, or highly-visible, that someone somewhere must be doing something about it. In other words, they might see a problem and do nothing about it, because of the dissemination of responsibility throughout the organisation.  

What would a ‘whistleblower’ role mean to a business? It would allow users to become more involved in the data quality issues in an organisation, thereby allowing the ‘business’ in business intelligence to have a greater say in shaping their own data. It also means that data quality, which should be a corporate habit rather than a one-off project, can be made a part of the business culture.

Data is a corporate asset that belongs to everybody, so everyone can help to look after it without risking their own comfort in the workplace; yes, data quality can be that contentious! The idea of a data ‘whistleblower’ is to try and find a way through it. If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear about them!

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