GC Web Usability Resolution 1: Work on governance before you work on anything else.

 (part 1 of 5)

There’s no doubt about it, GC institutions are having difficulties with governance when it comes to the web. In recent years we’ve shifted to a user-centred model, and that means more stringent attention needs to be paid to what is published, why it is published, and when it should be un-published.


Much of these difficulties with governance stem from the fact that web is often co-owned by several business units within the organization – from content owners to communications to IT. At best, the lines where one group’s responsibility ends and another’s begins are often a little fuzzy. Another reason web governance is a problem area is the constantly shifting roles of the web. When GC sites first became commonplace, they were intended to house information and not necessarily focus on the user.

Web governance defines the processes by which the integrity of web channels are maintained. Without a deliberate and thought-through governance in place it will be nearly impossible to succeed on any web-related initiative.  Governance is more than a stack of deliverables mapping out how things should be. When done well, management of the web becomes controlled, orderly, and strategic. But how do we do this well?

While there is no one size fits all approach to governance, the following high-level steps are a great place to start:


1.      Gain a common understanding of roles and responsibilities

This is one of the biggest issues when it comes to web governance (and governance of any kind!). The interpretations and definitions of roles and responsibilities for all key players involved is a critical element and needs to be agreed upon to ensure a consistent approach to web publishing. This can be a difficult conversation. It may require redefining team and individual project roles, but once this hurdle is overcome then a strong foundation is laid for a sustainable governance.

2.      Document those roles and responsibilities

Without documentation to fall back on, it’s easy for people to assume responsibilities that aren’t their own, or to neglect the ones for which they actually are responsible. This isn’t always intentional, but increasing workloads and demands made of their time can result in dropped responsibilities. By documenting the roles and responsibilities you not only ensure all players know their obligations, but also that there is a clear path to follow when concerns over the website arise – whether it be the information architecture, page layout, or content relevance and/or quality. Think of it like that trusty old telephone tree your mom had in the drawer beside the phone for when figure skating practice was cancelled.

3.      Ensure that the new governance is practical, implementable, and adaptable

One of the major failings of governance is the potential impracticality of it, if it’s not done well. A governance model is meant to be implemented. If it’s only conceptual and never put into practice, then it won’t help. If it’s only followed by some key players and not by others, then it’s doomed to fail as well. If a governance is too complex to follow, then affected parties will continue publishing to the web the way they always have. This is easy in the short-term, but the long-term consequences can be drastic. Without an implemented web governance, sites can grow to have excessive ROT (redundant, outdated, trivial content), have inconsistent design and architecture, and be extremely unfriendly for users.

Just enough is often enough

While these three high-level steps are integral to a successful web governance, we also take what we like to call the “just enough” approach to web governance. This involves only doing the required amount of governance work to effect the change you seek in your organization. This mantra helps to avoid the creation of unnecessary deliverables and more governance elements than are necessary and end up bogging-down the whole approach.

We all know the true GC new year starts April 1st, but regardless, we thought we would take this opportunity to take stock of the past year in usability across the NCR and bring you five GC web usability new year resolutions. This blog series tackles the following resolutions:

Usability Resolution 1: Work on governance before you work on anything else.
Usability Resolution 2: Think by topic, not who owns the topic.
Usability Resolution 3: Stop trying to pigeon-hole your IA into action-based tasks.
Usability Resolution 4: If you’re the only one who is going to read it, don’t publish it.
Usability Resolution 5: Test for failures, not successes.

We will be publishing the rest of this blog series in the first half of January.


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