Building a Data-Driven Culture at Educational Institutions: Key Strategies


In today’s fast-paced environment, it is more crucial than ever for organizations to adapt and innovate based on reliable information. For educational institutions, this means building a data-driven culture. I have only been in my official role for a little over 3 months now but I have been working with and making decisions based on data my entire career.  In this post, I share what I feel are some effective strategies for fostering a culture where decision-makers, from top-level executives to deans, to chairs, to faculty, and to staff, rely on data to make well-informed decisions.

Start at the Top: Executive Buy-in

For any cultural shift to take root, leadership must be at the forefront. Executives should demonstrate their commitment by using data in their decision-making processes.  We have a President who truly believes in the power of data, and not only just data, but timely, relevant, and accurate data to make data-informed decisions.

Leadership should communicate the importance of using data, not just gut feelings, in decision-making. This sends a clear message throughout the institution about the value placed on data-driven and data-informed approaches.  I am not saying that there is no room for decisions without data, but it is also good to see leaders using the data.

Invest in Infrastructure

A central repository that houses data from various departments is essential. This facilitates easy access and comprehensive analysis.  But the key is centralized.  The use of tools like SQL databases, analytics dashboards, and data visualization platforms is crucial for easy data manipulation and interpretation, but those tools cannot be used on data that cannot be accessed.  My first week on the job I was asked for a laundry list of data.  I had to ask 15 people for the data and the results I received ranged anywhere from here is a database, here is a spreadsheet, here is a Word file, oh it’s in a folder on Teams, to I’ll have to get that to you.

Empower Staff at All Levels

I have written about this before, but training training or guidance in data literacy is essential for EVERYONE. Data fluency is not just for data scientists or chief executives, but everyone should know what the data means and where the organization is going based on the data. Staff should be encouraged to seek out and interpret data for their own projects and responsibilities.

Implement Data Governance

This is another area I have written about and you will hear more about int the future as it is simply that important.  An institution must ensure that the data being used is accurate and up to date. This boosts confidence in data-driven decision-making.  To borrow a line from Uncle Ben, with data usage comes great responsibility. An organization must implement policies that enforce data security and privacy.

Foster Collaboration

Share and share more.  Meetings with different data stewards and departments who are looking for or providing data so that findings and insights can be shared and that contribute to a unified data-driven mission are critical. Where appropriate, allowing multiple departments access to data can provide fresh perspectives and solutions to institutional challenges.

Measure and Adapt

One of the first things I was tasked with (in addition to the above) was to develop some crucial KPIs.  In my opinion, that should not be me alone.  I can look at data and trends and help leverage others to identify key performance indicators in their area in order to measure the impact of a data-driven approach, which is key.  This will allow departments to review their data utilization and make adjustments as needed.


Building a data-driven culture is a journey, not a simple destination. I was told by someone in my field that it would take me a year to get up to speed and I said no, three months.  It’s been three months and they were right.  It takes time and if you invest the time, the journey becomes worth it.  The journey involves a concerted effort from everyone in the organization, led by an engaged and committed leadership. By investing in the right infrastructure, empowering staff, and adopting effective governance, educational institutions can pave the way for more insightful, data-driven decision-making.

By sharing these strategies, the aim is to offer a practical guide to those looking to foster a data-driven culture at their institution. With the right steps, relying on data can become second nature, making your institution more adaptive, insightful, and ultimately, successful, especially in the times we are all living in where the demand for higher education has changed significantly.

To deriving decisions through data!

Brian M. Morgan
Chief Data Officer, Marshall University


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