My aunt Helen had an opinion on everything. She was an information junkie long before the Internet, consuming at least three newspapers a day and watching untold hours of news television. If she didn't know about an issue directly, she had enough reference points to issue an authoritative opinion. I spent many weekends in her ancient Cheshire farmhouse with the musket holes in the foundation to protect against indian raids and the secret spot behind the fireplace where slaves hid in the 1850's Freedom Railroad on their way north to Canada. Dusty newspapers from the 1960's clogged the front staircase that was never used. Every National Geographic since 1940 sat piled in closets and behind sofas. Photos and postcards sat in boxes everywhere. Nothing got thrown away. Even the dust had dust. Her home was a database, and her brain was the ultimate computational instrument, an informational repository without parallel in our family.
Helen's knowledge of the world seemed to extend way beyond the bounds of her 1730 home. When I was young, I sat in awe of her voluminous and expansive mind never daring to question or challenge any of her positions. But as I grew into adolescence I began wondering if some her statements weren't maybe a little made up, or at least extrapolations of things she knew into things she thought she knew or could know with just a little imagination. But woe to you if you challenged her without some backup because she sure did know a lot and her mind was so sharp you could be reduced to blabbering in a microsecond if you really didn't do your homework and researched a topic.
But when I got to about 20, attending college - the place you went to get important information before Google put it on our smartphones in the subway - I started to learn that lots of what Helen said wasn't quite the way she said it. It wasn't that it was completely wrong, its just that it wasn't really always black and white the way she presented it. There were lots of different ways you could see and interpret the information. And you could construct a perfectly valid and well thought out argument that tied her up in intellectual knots. And back at the farm that summer we had some great arguments. Fact is, Helen was often at least partially right and wrong about a lot of things. Not philosophically wrong, because that's a matter of belief.
Factually in error, but never in doubt.
Her conviction was the secret of her intellectual strength. We've all known people like Helen, and many of you who know me are probably already murmuring "ahh, that's where he got that..." But I didn't bring up this point to wax about my family heritage or personality. I brought it up because this characteristic is one we find every day in our organizations, in the newspapers, on the web, in our governments. People develop points of view and stick to them, and getting people to see beyond their point of view is really a challenge. It isn't that the information is wrong, its that the people interpret it the way they see the world.
Information itself is a human creation. The computer didn't put it there. It isn't immutable, dirty until cleaned, chaste, pure, imperfect until perfected. It is a reflection of us, and since we created it, its sometimes wrong or the truth is at best a mixed result.
But what's to blame for that? Your Metadata? Your Business Glossary? Data Architecture? Security & Privacy? Audit? Your Organization?
YES! All of the above. Everyone who creates and uses information is involved in its interpretation and implementation. You don't have to be a data architect to influence the way information is used in an organization. Any iPhone or Android user has a role in the information management today. Bloggers, vloggers, and photographers shape and shade their creations to effect a mood, sell a product, influence an outcome. Everyone with a data connection is a source and a target and we all must accept responsibility for how we govern the use of OUR information.
Those consultants who tell you how to "govern the data" with all those tools are not helping anyone but themselves. Tools like Business Glossaries, Metadata workbenches, Master Data Management, Data Quality Profiling, and Audit help us understand when our information is out-dated, inaccurate, partially true, or just plain boulder-dash. We use those tools to illuminate the dark corners where opinions and habits force difficult debates to unlock the truth because we know that Information is the only tool we have to change behavior.
Want to succeed with Information Governance. Get Aware. Know what's happening and share it. Use your Information Governance tools to build operational awareness.
People will change their opinions when confronted with a solid argument, and that's what you want - Change from Information.
Fact is, I learned a lot from my aunt Helen and I still hear her voice strong as ever. Sometimes wrong, never in doubt.