“Looking After” and “Stewarding” Data

I’ve read two article in the last week that have used the phrase “looking after your data.” This is a new viewpoint to me of managing data. Perhaps the words “data management” might be unclear or vague. “Looking after your data” hints of looking after a child or looking after your dinner on the stove. It implies a certain attention, yet not a complete fixation on it at all times.

Stewardship is another term I’ve heard used to describe data management. Being a steward of something means you are responsible for its well-being and are dedicated to seeing it through safely. This word is similar to being a shepherd. Shepherds, in the literal sense, look after sheep. The tend to, herd, feed, and guide their flock with the intent of keeping them safe and well. This applies to data, as well, since we have to shepherd it through the project from beginning to end, making sure it gets appropriately described along the way, making sure it is clean and clear, ensuring its safety, and planning for its eventual preservation in places that will take care of it (curate it) for the future.

I like both of these metaphors for managing data. Metaphor is a powerful tool when used effectively. I think I will begin using them in conversation with researchers and colleagues.

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