What is in a Name? Looking at Institutional Research!

What is in a Name? Looking at Institutional Research!

StockSnap_OQ9T43QXGW_Frames_IRNaming_BPI often represent IData at conferences focused on data management and institutional research in the higher education (HE) industry. This spring in my conference travels I noted an increasing number of schools used the word "Effectiveness" or "Assessment" in the name of the department formerly named "Institutional Research" or IR for short. The words effectiveness and assessment seemed to be trending and I was curious about the choice of words. In this blog post I will share my observations and thoughts on the naming of Institutional Research.

Some questions popped into my head:

  • Why wasn't "data governance" or "data intelligence" trending in this new label for institutional research departments?
  • Was there a connection between this trend in renaming for Institutional Research departments and the emergence of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) role?
  • Where does leadership for data governance reside?

Many schools have adopted data governance practices and created jobs to support the work.  Higher Education organizations such as AIR, EDUCAUSE, and NACUBO have emphasized the value added and skills needed for data management. From my observations of IData's Data Cookbook clients and from following industry chatter, I know that data governance is widespread in HE; my curiosity was not about whether it was happening. I became curious about where it was situated within an organization and how was it labeled?

When I mentioned my observation to attendees at the spring conferences I attended, they confirmed my observation. Most people I spoke with had gone through a renaming and a reorganization within their department formerly called Institutional Research. As staff retired or left the organization, changes were made to reflect work that the department had been doing for several years prior to the name change. Or, a name change signaled a new approach to the department.  Several people humorously commented on the increasing length of the newly renamed entities.  For example, I have seen the name "Office of Institutional Effectiveness, Strategic Planning, Analytics, and Institutional Research". Often the name acronyms are clever.

Upon my return home, I was still curious that the phrase "data governance" had not crept into the new labeling trend. I searched for more information and discovered that Association of Institutional Research (AIR) published a paper in 2016 that describes new recommendations for managing a central data analytics program focussed on assessment and effectiveness. AIR uses an IR/IE abbreviation - referencing both Institutional Research and Institutional Effectiveness. What I observed as an outsider in the spring of 2022 reflected a trend first heralded within the IR/IE profession almost ten years ago.

The changes that AIR recommended to IR/IE departments in 2016 represented a shift for IR/IE from a service model targeted to a president/provost and external reporting to a service model targeted at nearly any employee.  This list provides more detail about those 2016 recommendations:

  • Participate in strategic planning sessions and provide data that informs planning sessions.
  • Encourage data collections managed outside of a central analytics office. Downplay positioning an IR/IE office as a single source of truth.
  • Increase what data is managed and reported - expand from obligatory third party external reporting requirements to an internal focus on data that people need to effectively run the organization.
  • Expand the pool of stakeholders beyond the president, provost, and senior administrators. Cultivate internal stakeholders at the manager or director level.
  • Implement a service model that serves data users at all levels of the organization.

To continue my sleuthing, I next explored the EDUCAUSE website and quickly located a working group for "Chief Data Officers". Membership is open to anyone with leadership or authority in data management, whether or not the job title was Chief Data Officer. In reading the list of job titles for EDUCAUSE members active in this working group, I see that the language is all over the map. Here are a few sample job titles:

  • Director, Office of Institutional Analytics
  • Chief Information Officer
  • Vice President Learning Innovation, Analytics, and Technology

Interestingly, no trend for "data governance", or even "data", in these job titles.

What does my crystal ball tell me about these trends in labels and titles? I personally don't have a preference or recommendation, but I will offer a prediction. I think "effectiveness" and "assessment" will continue to trend in department names, and I think the job title for the person tasked with leadership will have a title of Vice President, Vice Provost, or other senior academic administrative title. Data governance work will be a portfolio item within these units. I do not think "data governance" and the chief data officer role will trend as department labels and job titles. Why? The words "effectiveness" and "assessment" imply more  concrete value to the organization than "data governance". Data governance certainly has inherent value, but "assessment" indicates an organization will use data to measure operations and take the corrective action that the data indicates. Data governance is assumed to occur, because it is widely understood now that robust analytics cannot happen without data governance.  Assessment and effectiveness indicate an organization has applied what it learned through data analysis.  Another reason I predict that "data governance" will not be obvious in IR/IE department names is that data governance work is best performed at the operational or tactical level within decentralized operational units, by staff who will not report to IR/IE even via a dotted line. For example, the Director of Human Resources is the best person to hold responsibility for defining data within the human resources domain, not a staff member in IR/IE. 

Thanks for reading my thoughts.  I hope you enjoyed them.

Data governance is critical for all organizations because it instills trust in data, improves decision making and helps people.  For successful data governance, a data governance solution like the Data Cookbook  provides the framework, processes and content that is required.  If you need help implementing data governance or data intelligence, remember that IData provides data governance services.  A data governance solution like the Data Cookbook can help in successful implementation of data governance at an organization thus improving data quality, trust in data, and decision-making.  Feel free to Contact Us.

(image credit:  StockSnap_OQ9T43QXGW_Frames_IRNaming_BP #1222)

Brenda Reeb
About the Author

Brenda is a consultant in data management, data governance, and the information needs of users. She has over 20 years' experience providing services and solutions in higher education. Brenda has designed and implemented data management policies, established workflows, and created metadata. She is an experienced advocate for data management at all levels of an organization.

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