Data Governance Interview - Bonny McClain


I haven’t done a Data Governance interview for quite a while, but while preparing for a webinar I am doing with Bonny on Data Governance in Healthcare (you can register here) it became clear that I had to ask her to do an interview as she has so much expertise to share.

Bonny curates data from the intersection of health policy, health economics, and healthcare to create powerful storytelling narratives. Real insights come from the ability to hold tensions and bring multiple data sources to the conversation.

The data revolution is here, and her expertise is tackling industry specific problems-- rendering them solvable with data-- relying on a wide variety of tools like Python, R, SQL, and Tableau data visualization.

A big advocate of data literacy Bonny is a life-cycle data consultant. The ability to appreciate the overall concept while simultaneously thinking about detailed aspects of implementation allows different levels of abstraction to be curated creatively and empathetically.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

Since I first began working with electronic medical record (EMR) systems. Working with relational databases it became painfully obvious that data systems and data assets were not being managed across their lifecycle. Data quality issues were impacted by non-existent information governance often exacerbated by the move from paper records and charts to electronic databases.


Some people view Data Governance as an unusual career choice, would you mind sharing how you got into this area of work?

In smaller community medical practices and even larger health systems—information was being generated and shared across brick and mortar institutions. As physicians became curious about data questions that extended beyond administrative concerns there was a palpable need to understand “data dictionaries” and the schema and architecture of data storage. Understanding data assets was a natural evolution and requirement to glean insights from the digital data being created.


What characteristics do you have that make you successful at Data Governance and why?

Because I work with the populations that rely on the quality of data—the emphasis is on usability but not at the expense of safety—I have the data analytic skills (recent certificate in applied data analytics from Columbia School of Engineering) to identify which measures and variables are needed to answer a data question. Knowing that pieces of information often live in different parts of a database generates concern and an evolution of skills to ensure that patient records are matched to avoid duplicate records, missing data, inappropriately merged records, current medications and procedures—all with an eye to seek out potential opportunities for harm if data is incomplete, incorrect, missing, or low value.


You work a lot with the Healthcare Industry – how mature would you say they are in Data Governance?

You should mention that I snorted and began laughing. Although in full disclosure I work with many smaller organizations that haven’t been able to prioritize data governance for one reason or another. Our conversations about many data governance policies being articulated as “best endeavors” or a best effort illuminated for me why many of the best intentioned guidance falls short without out a complete and accountable data governance strategy.  

I do stress scalability with new clients so they don’t feel overwhelmed and tempted to park the whole process until “later”. I meet clients where they are—and most make significant process relatively quickly. Healthcare is unique as bad data here—can lead to deleterious outcomes and harms.

 The typical data client actually has low data literacy and maturity and often answers a data question before the analyses have been initiated. They want data that shows what they actually believe to be true—and in the face of a contrary outcome—move on to the average analyst that will gladly only report the curated outcome they seek.

Given that this is the typical healthcare professional—you can imagine that governance strategies that sit upstream from information governance are not recognized or prioritized.


How clear do you believe the Healthcare Industry as a whole is on the difference between Data Governance and Information Governance?

I may be wrong but I feel the labels are not applied to the different behaviors correctly. Although I do believe that compliance, quality care (value), cost containment, evolving payment models, and safety are understood as information—and rely on proper custodial processes of information assets--the industry as a whole is at a crossroads of how data governance influences the rigor of information downstream from policies and processes.


As a final reminder Bonny and I will be having a conversation about Data Governance in Healthcare on the 1stMay – the webinar is free and you can sign up here: