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Stewardship is the careful, responsible management of something entrusted to one's care on behalf of others (DAMA Dictionary of Data Management, 2011).

Data Steward Roles and Responsibilities 

Data stewardship is primarily the job of the professionals who create and maintain data. Although they have significant support roles to play, stewardship cannot simply be delegated to the IT or GIS shops.

For example, for spatially-enabled data, the GIS person may be responsible for maintaining the data but the decision on what information to collect and what format to keep it in belong to the "ologists" and business area leads they are working with.

USGS cannot accomplish data management without people taking on the roles of data stewardship at all levels of the organization. We are looking for people to embrace those data steward roles and responsibilities. People with knowledge about the business needs of the organization are necessary at all levels to define and manage data content and quality to ensure that the data collected and maintained meet those business needs.

Many of the responsibilities of Data Stewards are the same, regardless of where the person falls within the organization.


Data Access:

Data access rules relate to both internal and external access. As a data steward you are required to take into consideration things like FOIA, Privacy Act, and IT Security Issues that could impact your data. Data Stewards should assess their data early in the data collection process to determine if anything they are collecting is sensitive and might be restricted from access either inside or outside the organization.


Data Stewards should coordinate with Privacy, FOIA and IT Security officials in their local or state organizations.

  • Be accountable for integrity and quality of data personally created/updated.
    • Data stewards are responsible for establishing requirements and assessing the quality of the data used to make any official decision.
    • Data quality means fitness for intended use.
  • Choose data standards and establish business rules. Follow formal established process.
    • Data stewards are responsible for leading or supporting the data standards efforts. These efforts should follow the DOI/USGS process and include all documentation.
  • Ensure that information meets customer needs.
    • Can the data be relied on to be correct?
    • Are they in a format that is readable and understandable?
    • Is there current documentation on the data such as when they were collected, where, how, by whom, and under what conditions?
  • Establish data access security requirements.
  • Ensure official agency records requirements are being met.
    • National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) rules regulate the disposal of all types of records, including alphanumeric and spatial data.
    • Always involve your Records Manager/Administrator early in the data collection planning process.
  • Ensure data documentation is developed and maintained including FGDC metadata.
    • Metadata, which is defined as "data about data" describes the content, quality, condition, and other characteristics of data.
    • Metadata is to be collected from the beginning of the data collection process for both alphanumeric and spatial data.
    • [see Describe > Metadata for more information]
  • Participate in the data management team for your geographic area (national, state, local).
    • Data management is going on all around you. Teamwork is very important to assure that duplicate data are not being collected. When you determine a need to collect data for a project, proposal, or decision in your area, work with the team to identify existing data stores or data collection parameters.
    • Employees who have roles and responsibilities for data management need to work together.
  • Be active advocates of data management.
    • Endorse good data management practices, use them, and share them.


Knowledge/Skills & Abilities Required:

  • Knowledge of basic data management principles and concepts
  • Knowledge of how to create data standards, determine business data requirements, and business rules


Management Responsibilities 

Management includes Project Managers and Field Supervisors. Management responsibilities include:

  • Ensure resources are available for data management activities for their respective program areas.
  • Determine what data will be maintained, consistent with the objectives of the USGS.
  • Appoint and support data stewards for their areas of responsibility.
  • Be accountable for all aspects of data within their program or geographic area. Includes responsibility for quality, accessibility, completeness, timeliness, accuracy, and standards.
  • Be accountable for integrity and quality of business data personally created/updated.
  • Provide oversight during development of projects to ensure the data needs and requirements are documented.
  • Ensure adherence to Bureau requirements for metadata and data standards. [see Describe > Metadata and Acquire > Data Standards for more information]


Specialist Responsibilities 

Specialists include GIS Specialists, Resource Specialists, and Database/System Administrators. Specialist responsibilities include:

  • Be aware of resource data requirements, standards, access rules, and training.
  • Work with data stewards to interpret business needs into applications and derive data requirements.
  • Implement State/Bureau data standards; and may participate in the development of standards. [see Acquire > Data Standards for more information]
  • Facilitate educational opportunities for the treatment, application, and value of spatial data.
  • Create and maintain metadata to quality specifications. [see Describe > Metadata for more information]
  • Provide consistent interpretation and application of Bureau/State policies to their respective State Offices.
  • Manage databases containing spatial data.
  • Be accountable for integrity and quality of business data personally created/updated.


Data Stewardship Resources

In addition to this Data Management Website, there are some other helpful resources for data stewards / managers.

  • CURATE Checklists: The Data Curation Network has developed a series of checklists to help their curators through the data curation steps
  • Data Curation Primers: Data curation primers are interactive, living documents that detail a specific subject, disciplinary area or curation task and that can be used as a reference to curate research data. For example, there are primers detailing how to curate data in particular formats such as Excel, MSAccess, Geodatabase, netCDF, etc.


What the U.S. Geological Survey Manual Requires: 

The USGS Survey Manual chapter SM 502.6 - Fundamental Science Practices: Scientific Data Management Foundation requires that Science Center Directors or their designees assign or ensure the assigning of data managers to oversee or steward the lifecycle activities of their respective data products.

The USGS Survey Manual chapter SM 502.8 Fundamental Science Practices: Review and Approval of Scientific Data for Release states that the maintenance and oversight of the online database, data service, or method of data release is performed under the direction of an assigned data manager who oversees the process that ensures the preservation and quality of data added to the database or data service, routine data reviews, documentation of methods, procedures, and changes to the data.

The USGS Survey Manual chapter SM 502.9 - Fundamental Science Practices: Preservation Requirements for Digital Scientific Data states that designated data managers are responsible for coordinating and enacting preservation activities for USGS scientific data.  Data managers will ensure that the preservation activities for which they are assigned are met. They also collaborate with the data producers and the USGS Records Officer to ensure the appropriate records management requirements for their data are met.



  • Chatfield, T., Selbach, R. February, 2011. Data Management for Data Stewards. Data Management Training Workshop. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
  • Earley, S. ed., 2011, The DAMA dictionary of data management (2d ed.): New Jersey, Technics Publications, LLC, p. 228.