Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The 5 “R’s” of Governance – Get It Right…Get It Done

Web governance has perplexed government web managers for years. Because web management has been – basically – a grassroots effort in the government (many government websites were born bottom-up…not top-down), web managers have struggled to get the attention of higher-ups to get the right pieces in place.

What are the right pieces? I think of it in terms of the 5 “R’s" of governance: Roles, Responsibilities, Relationships, Rules, and Review.

  • Roles: who, by job, must be included in the governance structure so that websites are managed and coordinated properly? Web managers. Public Affairs Officers. CIOs. Program heads (responsible for content on their programs). Contracting Officers (to make sure contracts for websites or content that will go on the web comply with agency web policies). A top management official (who has authority to issue policies all parts of the agency must honor). And others.
  • Responsibilities: what must each person do? What functions, related to web management, are they responsible for?
  • Relationships: with whom must each person interact and when? For example, if the CIO is planning to do maintenance on the servers, he/she should coordinate with the Web Manager far enough in advance to warn the web audience of outages.
  • Rules: what are the policies, procedures, and standards that keep web management moving along efficiently and effectively? How do you manage web content? How do you manage all the other activities that support the website?
  • Review: how do you evaluate performance, of the website and of the people with the various responsibilities for the website, of web governance? How do you make sure all the roles, responsibilities, relationships, and rules are being used? How do you know where there are problems in the governance structure so you can fix them?

In Spring 2008, I did a very quick and dirty survey of 14 web managers at the Cabinet agencies and select independent agencies, asking questions about governance. I was preparing to teach a Web Governance course, and I wanted to get a feel for the problem areas. I learned that most agencies have a way to go to get good, solid governance in place. For example:

  • 58% had not documented their governance structures. If the structure isn’t documented, how can you be sure that all the players know what they’re supposed to do (in fact, they may not even know they’re part of the governance structure!). Write down and communicate what you have – the roles, responsibilities, and relationships - even if it’s imperfect. Then make it better.
  • Most agencies (83.3%) had documented web policies. But only about half had documented publication procedures and/or a style guide that describe the rules for managing content. Only about half had documented operating procedures…how you run other web functions like training and marketing and analytics and communications and all those other functions essential to good web management. You need to write down what you do and how you do it. Everybody needs to know the rules to play by.
  • 70% had not documented management controls (though I suspect most have them). Management controls are a critical part of the rules. You have to protect the agency and the public from fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement (see OMB Circular A-123). How do you make sure that only authorized people post to the website? How do you make sure that content is correct? Write down your controls, and make sure you’re using them.
  • Most agencies measured customer satisfaction (81.8%) and site traffic (90.9%). But less than 2/3 did usability testing. Usability data is your best indicator of site effectiveness and top task efficiency…and one of your best justifications for improvements. Only about a third had performance measures that tie the website to mission achievement and/or public service. You need to have meaningful review processes to make sure your site is performing well.

The Federal Web Managers Council has encouraged agencies to work on web governance; and – hopefully - things have improved. Strong governance is a must, if you want to provide the best possible public service through the web. Governance needs to be reviewed periodically, to make sure all the right “R’s” are in place. That’s especially true as the new administration takes up the reins and new players (including New Media Directors, who should be part of governance) come onboard.

Take the time to get this right now – you’ll save yourselves a lot of grief later. And you'll serve the public better.

Related links
HUD's web governance structure and policies
HUD's web publication standards and style guide
HUD's web management operating procedures

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