Website Governance: Still crazy after all these years

Let’s talk about some old times…the first time I thought about web governance was pre-Y2K. Twenty years later, people still ask me to advise on the right elements for a web governance plan. Have we made progress? Sure. Do we still struggle with similar challenges in website management? Uh huh.

All these years later, web governance is at best hard to sustain, and at worst elusive.

Think I’m crazy? Well then let me ask you this: Are you fully satisfied with your published website? (Is it up to date? Is it useful and informative?) I’m not asking if you like your CMS. And I’m not asking if you have enough people on your central web team. I’m asking if you are satisfied with all of the published pages that make up your website.

Most of us are not and some measure of this dissatisfaction is tied to web governance.

I believe I can identify the problem. You must move away from three common pitfalls when figuring out the governance plan for a large, decentralized website. If your web governance plan relies on any of these three, your plan is at risk.

  1. Web page maintenance as an add-on to someone’s job description.
    Too often, individuals are asked to manage web pages as an after thought. Someone has to do it; so these “web duties” are tacked on with no formal expectation. An employee will not (and cannot be expected to) prioritize a task that is not included in a job description. For success, web page maintenance tasks must be monitored and evaluated along with all other assigned responsibilities. When web duties are unspoken — essentially falling into the category of “other duties as assigned” — the result is out-of-date, subpar web pages.
  2. Too much emphasis on the CMS.
    The right tools are critical; but a content management system is not a panacea. In my experience, web governance often places too much emphasis on the use of the CMS and omits other key aspects. Paragraph after paragraph about permissions and assets and toolkits — enough already. We need more than a CMS to build solid web pages. Remember, the best DIY video on installing a kitchen backsplash can still lead to a mediocre outcome. Beyond CMS skills, web editors need to be able to organize information, write a few paragraphs, and know when it’s time to get help from a central web professional.
  3. Underestimating the amount of time (now and in the future) for managing the site.
    Still crazy after all these years, we continue to low ball the amount of time it takes to create and maintain web content. Done right, website management is ongoing; it is not a once-and-done proposition. Lack of understanding about the time needed to do this right leads us back to the first pitfall. Someone in a position of authority says, “How long could it take? Let’s just ask our departmental administrator to update the web pages when time allows.”

A well-articulated and collaborative plan for web governance is possible! In future posts, I’ll tackle how to get there. Next up: setting the stage for web governance.

I believe I know more about web governance in higher ed than almost anyone and I am able to offer independent consulting services in this area. And, if you interested, I’ll happily offer a short, gratis phone conversation to hear more about your particular circumstances. If you’d like to take me up on this offer, just email me at

Thanks go to Jim Kempster at Pratt Institute and Karine Joly at Higher Ed Experts for inspiring this post.

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