What are your Data Principles?

First off, you might be saying, “Data Principles, WTF?” Ok, think of Data Principles as your manifesto or by-laws in how your organization uses data. Data Principles could be about how you go about collecting data. How you go about sharing data within the organization. What your view of data in the decision making process. What are your views around Data Governance. What is transparent and what is hidden to your consumers, partners, employees, etc.

Wow, this is a lot you say. Let’s take a step back though and provide a little more context on Data Principles and we shamelessly adapted this concept in part from Ray Dalio’s Principles book that is a great read. Ray Dalio applied Principles that he used in his personal life and professional life. While we recommend you read the book we think the concept of putting together your Data Principles for three reasons:

  1. Process of developing principles helps engage in a meaningful conversation and ensure there is buy-in.

  2. Provides an immediate reference point so that everyone in the organization can understand how data should and should not be used within the organization.

  3. Better provides accountability in using data well in an organization and at the same time helping democratize the message around the importance of data.

There are certainly other reasons that these Data Principles matter. One important point when putting Data Principles together this should be done by a diverse, cross-functional, and cross-seniority level group. It can’t just be leaders. It can’t just be data people. A broad group of input and agreement on Data Principles is needed. Further, the result of this effort needs to be even more broadly communicated so that everyone understands the result.

The process of coming up with Data Principles is just as important as the Principles themselves. Don’t cut the process short and use it as an alignment and communication effort around how your organization cares about data and will use it strategically and ethically. Having an outside facilitator helping provide the Data Principle development sessions is often beneficial so that it is not too driven by one area or another of the organization. It is important that all areas feel and actually do have input in the Data Principles coming together.


Now you might ask, "what should our Data Principles be?” That we cannot answer blanketly but instead each organization’s culture, maturity level, risk tolerance, and other factors come into play. What is important is that the conversation happens and the Data Principles result. One important point in coming up with Data Principles is don’t lie to yourself as an organization. Data Principles should align with culture or if different than culture than align with the direction that the organization is broadly going to put effort into shifting culture.

Data Principles are only as good as the effort you put into creating, communicating, and reiterating. Got your Data Principles defined and want to share then we would love to see them.


Dave Mathias

Co-Founder of Beyond the Data
Passionate about Data, Analytics, Product Management & Communities

Dave has been advising clients on strategy and data for over 12 years, helping them elevate their products and services with data and analytics. His passion is bringing together people, process, technology, and data to make the world a better place.

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