Democratizing Data


Several years ago, I sat with a new customer of PeopleInsight and asked the question “what would happen if you freed your data?”

All of a sudden, the room got quiet. My perspective was that “democratizing” data would signal a powerful shift in the way they, as an organization, viewed and used their information - especially since they were from the Human Resources team.

But, freeing their data was, not only, the antithesis of how they’d managed (actually “controlled” & “governed”) their data up to that point - there were a number of compounding issues which made it very difficult for them to free the data prior to that point.

First of all, organizational norms and a leadership culture of throttling access to data wasn’t going to be easy to overcome. Also, IT didn’t have the know-how, tools, budget or priority to centrally consolidate and nationally democratize the data in question through data discovery toolsets and data warehouses. To boot, they’d only just started on their journey to becoming data driven - so at the time felt somewhat immature and wanted to take a more conservative approach.

And lastly, they posited “what on earth would managers do with such data”?

My response was, “the managers would manage, do their job and figure out how to best use the business intelligence tools and the new, highly valuable information at their fingertips”.

At the end of the conversation, it was clear that data driven HR for this organization was going to be more of an evolution than a revolution - however they took note of my line of questioning and every year since then (2013), they’ve deployed more and more users of the PeopleInsight workforce analytics platform and have made great strides to democratize their data where it makes sense.

What’s great about this example is this fairly traditional organization didn’t shy away, and have democratized their HR data in a way that makes most sense to them.


5 years later, as we release a new product which is a transformational approach to help the Government of Canada get much more from their Public Service Employee Survey data, here are some of my key observations related to Data Democratization:

  1. The amount of organizational, operational and personal data around us is becoming so voluminous, and is growing so fast, it’s easy to forget, disregard or undervalue some of your most critical sources. When you free acceptable data in your organization, the people who truly need it will use it to great value.
  2. If you’ve searched for a flight online recently (especially on a consolidator site) you can claim proficiency in BI toolset functionality (i.e., combining criteria, filtering, sorting and reporting etc). Given you can’t really break true BI/Reporting/Analytics tools - get your hands on them and go for it.
  3. According to IBM, key executives spend 70% preparing data, and 30% actually using data - and my non-scientific observations suggest that number is up in the 80/20 range if you look at the organization at-large. This isn’t optimal and knowledge-based organizations need to get better at sharing their data so executives, analysts and decision makers can drive insightful decisions, change and stakeholder outcomes.


In the context of the Government of Canada’s PSES survey results, the raw data has been freed and publicly available - but front-line access to that data can be patchy, under-powered or technically complex. Given this, the users and analysts have historically been mainly from HR, Wellness and Employee Experience teams reporting on organizational health, engagement and cultural sentiment.


As we move forward in a more data democratized world, I believe we should be treating our front-line employees and managers like adults - helping them become data driven (which should really be a balance of hard facts and context/sentiment/opinion such as the PSES) by serving them the right tools to access the data they’ve been so critically involved with preparing (in terms of supporting and completing a comprehensive survey like PSES), and trust they’ll use it to deliver organizational and public sector objectives.

Go on.

It’s your data, you should use it.

*thumbs up to those who recognized the subliminal messaging ("I’m free") and the reference to the 70's British comedy classic

Government of Canada employee? Interested in PSES Analytics by PeopleInsight? Click here. 

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