Emory launches new Institutional Data Management policy

By Laura Douglas-Brown | Emory Report | Dec. 10, 2014

Emory rolled out a new Institutional Data Management policy during a recent data summit attended by key personnel across the university. The new policy aims to create a common framework and standardize roles for handling data appropriately and effectively.

"Emory University defines itself as an ethically engaged institution driven by inquiry, and as such the integrity and accuracy of data from and about the university are matters of core concern," Policy 10.13 states.

Nancy Bliwise, associate vice provost for academic planning, manages the Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness and led the Data Advisory Committee that created the new policy.

"The policy is designed to help us maintain the quality of institutional data and to promote and safeguard the appropriate and effective use of data, so we were looking broadly at how we use data across the institution," Bliwise said.

Data integrity is "an ethical issue and we need to think of it as part of our professional ethics," she said.

The Nov. 19 summit, attended by Emory employees whose jobs involve interacting with institutional data, outlined the new policy for those who will work most closely with it.

"It was designed to give those with responsibility for data collection and reporting a chance to review and discuss the policy with their teams and with others in similar roles across the campus, thereby building a network of responsible data managers at Emory," said Lynn Zimmerman, senior vice provost for undergraduate and continuing education.

The new data policy covers academic and administrative data for Emory University, including certain student and faculty data. It doesn't apply to data from Emory Healthcare, such as clinical or patient data, or to data concerning medical research or human subjects, which are governed by other regulations. Faculty research is not included in the policy.

The policy was reviewed by the Board of Trustees, approved by the university's executive vice presidents, and is now in effect. The committee realized as the work began that "data stewardship, data ownership and data integrity is an important issue for the entire university," Zimmerman said.

Bliwise told summit attendees that they will play an important role in the next phase for the policy: implementation across Emory.

"Our institutional data management policy applies to us all, so as ambassadors, as leaders, it will be important that you share this information with your teams, that you begin to implement aspects of the policy in your units, and that you speak with others about the policy as well," she said.

Principles for data management

The Data Management Policy specifically prohibits anyone who works with institutional data from "knowingly falsifying or fabricating data" and from destroying data except as dictated by policies related to record retention.

The policy goes further, however, to set consistent standards for how Emory will create and evaluate data. It defines data integrity as institutional data that is accurate, complete, consistent, reliable and timely.

The Data Advisory Committee will continue to develop and review data management policies and procedures, and the Office of Institutional Research is the designated office for official data collection and reporting for the university.

Additionally, the policy sets out tasks for employees whose roles involve interacting with data at four levels: data trustees, data stewards, data custodians and data users. Online training, enhanced by feedback from summit attendees, will be made available to data stewards, custodians and users.

"The most important general principle to highlight is that all members of the Emory community have the obligation to protect and insure the appropriate use of institutional data, so we are the caretakers of those data — the data that we generate, the data that we manage, and the data that we use," Bliwise said.