Chapter 4. Implementing a Metadata System - Training Users to Maximize System Utility
Metadata is not an inherently well-understood topic, and many stakeholders may
not yet likely to be familiar with the term. Thus, professional development must be
provided to system users. In many environments, including education, readily available
data tools are not used to their full potential because ineffective or insufficient training
makes using the system more of a challenge than a benefit. Metadata system training
requires commitment from the organization to identify or develop skilled trainers,
customize training curricula to reflect specific user needs, and allocate professional
development time to the full range of stakeholders upon initial system implementation
and ongoing use. In addition, metadata training efforts can be challenging because,
unlike other technology initiatives, in most cases the organizationís stakeholders
have not asked for the system because they do not yet understand their need for
this powerful information management tool. Without comprehensive training, it
is extremely unlikely that stakeholders will appreciate the power and benefits of a
The primary purpose of stakeholder training is to teach users to: (1) understand
the purpose of metadata; (2) operate a metadata system effectively and efficiently;
and (3) use metadata to inform their data use. Unless these major objectives are
accomplished, only technical staff may have the confidence to use the metadata
system and its potential value will never be realized.
Important considerations when planning a training program include
- Introducing the concept of metadata. Different stakeholders will have a widely
varying understanding of metadata. Therefore, training programs should be
designed so that those unfamiliar with the concept will not be overwhelmed
with technical details, while anyone with some familiarity will not be bored.
One strategy for providing this type of customized training is to adopt a
modular approach, with each module building on content from the previous
session. Stakeholders can begin their training at the level most appropriate
for their knowledge and experience. The initial training module might, for
example, introduce the concept of metadata without delving too deeply into
technical details and terminology. A subsequent module could begin to address
more formal terminology and model relationships between metadata, data,
and information needs. A third module might then describe the organizationís
preferred practices for entering, managing, and using metadata.
- Including meaningful, "real" examples to illustrate training points. Participants in
training activities generally appreciate lessons that can be readily applied to
their everyday responsibilities. Training is most meaningful when it is clearly
applicable to the participants and their jobs. Good trainers often illustrate
points with "real life" examples that are directly related to the duties of the
participants. In addition to explaining concepts in understandable terms,
examples demonstrate how to use metadata "on the job," and they effectively
illustrate metadata's power to improve data use.
- Customizing training to match audience needs. Not all stakeholders will use
metadata the same way. For example, data stewards generally will be
responsible for entering and updating most nontechnical metadata, whereas
database administrators often are in charge of technical metadata. Program staff
and other data users, on the other hand, need to focus on accessing metadata
to improve their analysis and use of program data. Because each stakeholder
group may use a metadata system in a slightly or substantially different
manner, it often makes sense to develop separate training modules that can
be combined as appropriate to meet the needs of each major user group.
Customizing content to meet functional needs and minimize less relevant
information generally makes training efforts more efficient and effective.
Teaching metadata in a training program
Effective training sessions often begin with ideas that stakeholders understand
and then proceed to more advanced topics.
- What are metadata?
- How do metadata affect you and your data use?
- Why does the organization need metadata?
- Metadata system overview
- Access rights and tools
- Policies and procedures
- What are the basic (or advanced) system components and how are
- How will metadata affect a user's understanding of data?
- Data element definitions
- Permitted values
- Usage guidance
- Usage examples (related to audience)
- How are users expected to maintain system security?
- How do stakeholders learn more about the metadata system?
See appendix D for a description of a metadata training program.
Metadata will be a new concept to many participants. Training stakeholders to
use a metadata system does not necessarily ensure they understand when or why to
use it. In addition to describing the concept of metadata, trainers need to explain why
metadata are relevant to each stakeholder group's roles and responsibilities.
- Policymaking staff might be shown how metadata can provide access to
data usage instructions, term definitions, and interpretation guidance that
will ensure their policy decisions are based on an accurate understanding
of the data. Or, they might learn how the data are commonly used, and the
implications of mistakes in collection and processing.
- Technology staff might be taught that metadata will provide a clear list of
technical attributes (e.g., data element type and field length) that do not
need to be reconsidered each time an item is collected. They might also need
to learn that metadata can identify sensitive/confidential data and improve
system security, or that metadata will simplify the exchange of data between
systems, both within and outside the organization.
- Program staff might learn how metadata can help identify redundant data
elements and collections, potentially reducing collection demands and
improving data comparability and continuity over time. They might also
learn that metadata can improve data checking and auditing to increase the
overall quality of the data.
Regardless of the examples used, stakeholders should leave a training session with
a clear sense of what metadata are and why using them is worth their time and effort.
See appendix D for a detailed outline of a metadata staff training program.