Are You Ready for Web Governance?

Web governance helps ensure the long-term viability of your website. Start planning now to ensure your governance approach is socialized, sustainable, and successful.

What is the best way to start a website redesign project? By thinking seriously about what happens after the project ends.

It is always heartening when our partners come ready from the start to think about how to protect their investment in a new website, considering how they will manage and sustain their website on an ongoing basis. 

Smart organizations know that thinking about digital governance from the outset of a project will ensure long-term success. After all, we develop websites in order to support defined business goals. A governance plan holds us accountable to those objectives, giving all units and individuals across the institution the support, structure, and guidance they need to succeed while ensuring compliance with defined standards, guidelines, and policies.   

The outcomes of a well-defined and well-supported governance plan are:  

  • More consistent, higher-quality experience for end user, yielding more goal-driven outcomes for stakeholders  

  • Greater awareness, buy-in, and knowledge among internal users for the processes of maintaining web content  

  • Less internal chaos resulting from undefined roles, knowledge gaps, inconsistent and/or low quality work, or insufficient outcomes as they relate to goals  

But governance takes work. It means ongoing attention to your website and the people, processes, and standards that shape it. It means being honest about your institution and what you need to do to sustain a certain level of quality and consistency on the web. And it sometimes means saying “no,” guiding people toward appropriate means of communication that may not reflect exactly what they requested. And for it to be successful, it can’t simply be one person’s quest - there must be organizational will supporting it.

Governance, ultimately, comes down to authority. It is easy to say, “only A, B, and C will go on the homepage,” but when the request comes to publish D, are you willing to have that conversation? Is your boss? And your boss’ boss? That’s the true test of web governance - having the intestinal fortitude to continually educate, advocate, and negotiate to sustain the type of website you know you need in order to achieve your goals.

The requirements for governance to succeed are:  

  • Reflection - No two governance plans are alike. Every organization has unique needs, culture, and objectives that the plan should take into account. This means taking a close look at your organization and being honest and realistic about what is necessary and possible.  

  • Sponsorship - One or more stakeholders within the organization must be charged with creating, implementing, and overseeing the governance policy. Without this level of ownership and commitment, the plan is dead on arrival.  

  • Authority - The policy must be enforced, with buy-in at the highest levels of the organization, and there must be consequences for failure to comply. Simply put, the top executive needs to be comfortable saying “no” to a request that violates the established policy, and will support decisions made by others across the institution that reinforce the policy. In short, it must be taken seriously.  

  • Accountability and Ownership - Individuals must have defined roles and responsibilities, and they must be empowered to fulfill them with appropriate training and documentation. In addition, no portion of the website should lack an owner -- all sections must be accounted for and actively maintained.  

  • Standards - Publishing processes, guidelines, and workflows must be clearly defined and communicated. Quality cannot be a moving target -- consistency in messaging and user experience, as well as authoring experience, are paramount.  

If you are willing and able to meet these requirements, you’re ready to roll. Your governance plan will be more than just a spiffy document - it will be a roadmap to success.

This article was originally published in 2016.