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Small toolkit: 1) Understand your data

This step documents and categorises the data problems which block or inhibit your organisational objectives.

Before setting an aspirational level it is important to  ‘anchor’ data management issues visible in the daily operation of the organisation. Our research shows issues coalesce around either an overwhelming volume of work, putting out fires or not knowing where to start fixing things.

It is useful to categorise these into one of the four dimensions. Once captured and categorised, the next step is to link these issues to the objectives chosen in the previous step. Resolving an issue must unblock or support one of these objectives, as shown below. If you are completing the small toolkit it is not necessary to complete the cross reference exercise; in the actions below this is identified with a grey highlight.

Data management issue ID Dimension Theme Objectives cross reference
A lack of understanding of the end-to-end process and associated output - department 'view' more important than organisation 1 Business process Increasing accessibility 1, 2, 3
Our data is not suitable for purposes it is being put to - we must remove gaps, eradicate errors and embed stewardship 6 People and culture Improving quality 1, 5
Completing statutory returns and reporting obligations is difficult because we always seem to start again 7 Business process Reducing the burden 1, 5
System enhancement versus resource to support existing data services - not enough of second means inefficient workarounds 10 Technology Not applicable 1
No one owns data and everyone owns data! We can't fix anything because we can't agree roles and responsibilities 9 Data activities Increasing accessibility 1, 4

The blockers in the link below are taken from the Higher Education Data and Information Improvement Programme (HEDIIP) Student Data Collection Review project; they are referenced to provide some context when considering your own data management issues.



  1. Open the Data Capability Templates spreadsheet and navigate to the understand data issues tab.
  2. Record the data issues using the template and guidance.
  3. [Full toolkit only] Cross reference the issues to the objectives to begin to create a linkage.
  4. Agree the themes and dimensions that can categorise these issues.
  5. Explain how mitigating some/all of these issues would support or enable the objectives set out in the previous section.