Illustrated collage of website icons's Guide to Digital Governance: Intended Use

This is the fourth installment of’s Guide to Digital Governance, a comprehensive guide intended to help get you started when developing a governance plan for your institution’s digital communications.

Once we have established ownership for all of the content within our web properties, it may be helpful to define the intended use of those properties next.

This may seem obvious and unnecessary to state, but in my experience it has been important to define the intended use of the web property that is currently being described. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands a common set of goals for the property.

Public-facing websites are commonly intended for the use of communicating information to audiences outside of an organization, which is why they are public and usually distinguished from private, inward-facing sites, such as an intranet, which is intended for the purpose of communicating information to internal audiences within an organization. Not everyone understands this, so it is important to establish the reasoning behind the existence of the property so as not to confuse it with the purpose of another property.

Occasionally, the intended use of a property will be defined in part by the negative, or by that which it is NOT intended to be used. For example, it may be useful to state that no part of a public site should be used for personal content, especially if alternative resources exist explicitly for that purpose.

Here is an example of how intended use is sometimes defined by the negative:

"Academic Department websites are intended for the use of communicating information about the department, its faculty, degree requirements, course offerings, policies, etc. Academic Department websites are not intended for hosting websites of individual faculty, websites based on grant funding, research projects, or specific course-related materials, or for private (i.e. password-protected) websites or applications."

The negative in this example addresses some misperceptions about the intended use of a site about a department by listing some common misuses of the site previously.

Here are some questions to consider for explaining your own intended use policy:

  • What is the primary purpose of the property or Website?
  • What are the secondary and tertiary purposes, if they exist? 
  • Are there any activities or content which occasionally find their way onto this property which should live elsewhere, and thus explicitly be listed as not intended for this property?
  • What are the “grey areas” or things which are unclear where they belong?
  • Is there a process for dealing with grey areas?
  • Who would help determine that process if it doesn’t exist? Intended use can be a controversial subject for many organizations, so think carefully and cautiously throughout this exercise.

Intended use can be a controversial subject for many organizations, so think carefully and cautiously throughout this exercise. I recommended gathering input from a broad range of representative stakeholders to discuss some of the stickier points before defining and presenting a plan that may draw criticism when reviewed by the larger organization.

As with most things, intended use should be based in reason and make sense to most people. That being said, there may be occasions in which some level of compromise is required in order to accommodate content that doesn’t have a home otherwise. This is typically okay in small amounts and for brief time-periods, until alternative solutions can be found.


This post is part of a larger series of posts, which make up a Guide to Digital Governance Planning. The sections follow a specific order intended to help you start at a high-level of thinking and then focus on greater and greater levels of detail. The sections of the guide are as follows:

  1. Starting at the 10,000ft View – Define the digital ecosystem your governance planning will encompass.
  2. Properties and Platforms – Define all the sites, applications and tools that live in your digital ecosystem.
  3. Ownership – Consider who ultimately owns and is responsible for each site, application and tool.
  4. Intended Use – Establish the fundamental purpose for the use of each site, application and tool.
  5. Roles and Permissions – Define who should be able to do what in each system.
  6. Content – Understand how ownership and permissions should apply to content.
  7. Organization – Establish how the content in your digital properties should be organized and structured.
  8. URLs – Define how URL patterns should be structured in your websites.
  9. Design – Determine who owns and is responsible for the many aspects design plays in digital communications and properties.
  10. Personal Websites – Consider the relationship your organization should have with personal websites of members of your organization.
  11. Private Websites, Intranets and Portals – Determine the policies that should govern site which are not available to the public.
  12. Web-Based Applications – Consider use and ownership of web-based tools and applications.
  13. E-Commerce – Determine the role of e-commerce in your website.
  14. Broadcast Email – Establish guidelines for the use of broadcast email to constituents and customers.
  15. Social Media – Set standards for the establishment and use of social media tools within the organization.
  16. Digital Communications Governance – Keep the guidelines you create updated and relevant.