The Case for Sharing Definitions and Specifications in the Public Community

As you many know, IData publishes a number of publicly-available definitions and specifications for public consumption, including national data sets like IPEDS and CDS, state bodies like SCHEV in Virginia, regional accreditors like WASC, and professional accreditors like AACSB. The public availability of this information helps IData clients and higher education in general deal with the increasing complexity of data definitions. However, there remains an immense amount of private definitions that may help other institutions if made available in the public community.

Some institutions remain leery of sharing their data definitions and specifications with the larger community. Such hesitation is certainly understandable given data governance structures, and we readily acknowledge that some data should not be shared. Consider, though, the process that nearly all institutions who develop their own data dictionaries undergo: wrestling with the nuances of meaning, application to local understanding and culture, and vetting across multiple stakeholders. If there is a particular data point, say ethnicity for example, that is the culmination of combining many other definitions, vetting, and re-drafting, would it not hold value for others?

This is not to say that institutions should consider sharing some of their data merely an act of good will. Rather, sharing such information could help establish collaborative relationships between peer institutions, departments, or other organizations that may pay dividends in the future. The Data Community efforts, then, could be more directed toward networking individuals and departments to peers who are actively solving the same or similar problems at their own institutions.

James E. Willis, III, Ph.D.

IData Content Curator

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