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Palantir.net's Guide to Digital Governance: Ownership

This is the third installment of Palantir.net’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.

Now that we have defined all of the digital properties and platforms that we will consider for our Governance Plan, we next need to establish who “owns,” or who will ultimately be responsible for the care, maintenance, and accuracy, of these properties.

Ownership is the cornerstone of good governance. In fact, some may think of ownership as being synonymous with governance. From my experience, I believe that good governance of any digital communications platform involves more than simply defining who is responsible for each piece.

In most organizations, many people are using, sharing, and collaborating on the same systems together. The processes and interactions between those users needs to be defined as well, however we have to identify the people before the process. Defining ownership first is the foundation on which we can begin to define the more complex relationships that exist in a shared system.

Ownership is the cornerstone of good governance…. Defining ownership first is the foundation on which we can begin to define the more complex relationships that exist in a shared system.

I should make one other important distinction between maintenance of the system and the maintenance of the presentation of content, as it relates to ownership.

Since this Governance Plan is considering the guidelines for digital communications, it is explicitly NOT considering the roles, policies, and procedures for the maintenance of the infrastructure that supports the properties and platforms we are considering for the plan.

In other words, when we define who has ownership of the public website or the intranet, we are considering only the content and its presentation – not the underlying software and hardware that makes the website or intranet functional.

Perhaps this is obvious, but it is an important distinction to make for those who are less familiar with modern web technology, who may not fully understand where the functions of an IT department end and an Online Marketing or Communications department begin.

With those caveats out of the way, we can now begin to define who is responsible for each of the properties and platforms we listed earlier.

Obviously, I can’t tell you who is or who should be responsible for each piece within your organization – that must be defined by how your work responsibilities are distributed across the institution – but I can describe some general principles for defining ownership that should help.

  • Ownership of your organization’s web presences ultimately should reside at the very top, with levels of responsibility being delegated down the hierarchy of the institution.
  • The top leadership of an organization should be responsible ultimately for the accuracy and maintenance of the content contained within the parts of the properties they own.
  • Every website, subsite, microsite, department site; every section and sub-section; every page, aggregated listing, and piece of content all the way down to each video, photo, paragraph, headline, and caption should fall within the ownership of someone at the top.
  • Responsibility for daily oversight and hands-on maintenance of those properties then may be delegated to staff within the owner’s groups, offices, or areas of responsibility.
  • Owners should have sufficiently trained staff who have the authority and capacity to make changes, corrections, and updates to the content as needed in a timely manner, such that inaccurate and/or outdated content does not remain on the property for an unreasonable period of time.

In short, ownership has two essential aspects:

  1. top-level responsibility for the accuracy and efficacy of the content, and
  2. hands-on responsibility for the creation and maintenance of the content.

Both are essential and required for good governance, and very likely may be responsibilities held by one person, split between two, or shared among a group.

Shared Ownership / Responsibility

There may be instances in which shared ownership may be necessary. I generally recommend against doing that as it puts at risk a clear chain of accountability. If two people are responsible, it’s easy for both to think the other person is handling it.

If some form of shared ownership is required, consider having one person be the primary owner, who is supported by a secondary owner when needed; or that a primary owner is a decision-maker, but secondary owner(s) are consulted or informed of issues and pending decisions.

If “equally” shared ownership or responsibility is required, try defining the exact responsibilities that are to be owned and dividing them logically between the two. Perhaps there is a logical separation of pages or sections. Or maybe one person is responsible for copy, while another is responsible for images.

Shared ownership is less-than-ideal, but there can be reasonable ways to make it work, provided you do not create any structural gaps in authority, unwittingly.

Collaboration

There are many instances in digital communications where groups of people collaborate to produce content. This is most common with organizational news and events, publications, blogs, social media, etc.

For example, if there is a single person who can be ultimately responsible for all blog content created by various content creators, great! If blog content is created by subject-matter experts from different fields or different parts of the organization, perhaps it is possible to invest ownership in one person for all of the blog posts within a specific subject for each field.

If you are in a situation similar to what I described above, where you have multiple, subject-specific owners, it will probably make sense for all of the owners to meet regularly to agree on standards and best-practices for all contributors to follow.

In the end, the fundamental concept here is to place responsibility for all content and every part of a digital property with the people who are in the best position to manage it and ensure its quality, accuracy, pertinence, and value.

 

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. URL Naming Conventions – 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.