Successful Data Management

I was recently asked to present to the Department of Environment and Conservation’s Nature Conservation Conference.  It was a big deal for me, as this is an internal conference.  To be invited to present put a fair bit of pressure on me to ‘perform’, so I spent quite a lot of time in the weeks leading up to it preparing a presentation that looked at how to measure success in data management.  The slides from the presentation are here if you are interested in looking at them.

I talked for a bit at the start about data management, and specifically about the evolution through various stages of the framework and technology landscapes as we see them at the moment.  Then I moved on to a few examples.  I spent a while before the presentation looking at how we measure success in our data management projects, but focused on the South West Australia Ecoregion Initiative (SWAEI) and the Rio Tinto Environmental Characteristics and Capabilities (ECC) projects in the presentation.  In fact, these were two I included in the presentation as well as a more generic “this is what some of our smaller clients are doing” (complete with nifty animated slide).

In any event, we’re measured in three things when we do these projects:

  • Objective – did we meet the objective of the project (i.e. are we managing data properly, and can it do the things it is being managed for)
  • Costs – did we do it in the budget?
  • Time – did we achieve it in the timeframe required – also alternatively sometimes termed “did we save the client time with this project”.

I also raised a few different potential other measures of success for the DEC staff to consider, like adherence to process and standards, error minimization, and there are three that I’d like to just talk about for a paragraph each; value, open access and biodiversity.  I didn’t get enough time to really talk about these three, so I’ll have a crack here.

The Value of Data
This idea is based on a simple proposition.  If you spend $200,000 running a field trip to collect data, what do you have left at the end of the trip as an enduring asset? The data.  Based on that logic, then your data is worth $200,000.  So really, you should be treating the data as if it was worth the effort and cost of collecting it.

How do you measure success in this framework? Well, you could easily look at value per record, but I like to think of this really as reminding you what your data is worth – and then you should manage it appropriately.

Why Open Access equals Success
This is an interesting one.  You could – as New Zealand government is doing ( – make your data open and have a measure of success on how many datasets or records are available.  This is an interesting proposition for government that is full of all sorts of discussion points – but for now I’ll just say you could use this as a measure of success and leave it at that (food for thought for you, I suppose).

Data is Good for Biodiversity
Does good data management mean good outcomes from a biological viewpoint?  It can do – better understanding of our environment can lead to better decisions.  I thought of this as a result of some prodding from the DEC organizers, and also from the exponential increase in my understanding of Koala populations from my recent attendance at the Koala workshop held by DEWHA (see here for a brief discussion of that).  Having data around means that you can make better decisions, assuming the data is fit for purpose.   So it can actually deliver good outcomes for biodiversity – so you could measure the outcomes for biodiversity as a result of data management.

After the talk, one of the attendees said that the talk was good (OK, a few), but one in particular said it wasn’t really relevant to them as they were a government department and I was in the private industry.  In discussions afterwards the comment was “of all of those three measures, we’ve got plenty of time, so we can take as long as we want to do things”. We talked about how the current budget cuts in WA government mean that they don’t have any resources to spend, as well.  I suspect the three measures would work – but the other measures would probably fit better in the governmental culture.  There’s certainly different challenges for government than the corporations we usually work for.

We’re starting to wind down in our office for the break over Christmas.  I’m really looking forward to some time out to recharge from the year and to get everything ready for a brand new year.  We’ll have a few big projects landing on our plates early in 2010, so clearing the decks in this last week or so is fast becoming our priority!

Thanks for sticking with us all year, reading our blogs and getting in touch with us.

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