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Content governance for government

I’ve got something to admit.

I worked for the government. As an employee. For years.

Just over eight years to be exact and, while I’m not an employee now, I still have  a keen interest in how governments manage online content.

So when I read Natalya Minkovsky’s excellent post Putting the “Gov” in Web Content Governance”, it made me think about the challenges I used to face as web manager, content producer, and project manager. We attempted to get a governance model documented and approved, and it turned into one of those projects handed down between burnt out web managers who tried but never succeeded.

Long discussions about ownership and responsibility

This was a big one. Who was actually responsible for the content in the first place? Who ‘owned’ the site? Who was the content champion who had the final yay or nay for massive home page changes? It’s pretty hard to stick to a strategy if you don’t have the power to implement it.

Complex approvals and bottlenecks

Natalya mentions in her post the issue of timeliness versus the multi-level approvals required to get something published. And this was true where I worked. Delays in getting a message out were potentially damaging. And ironically, when the order came from the top – often processes were circumvented, creating an expectation of rule breaking for the next ‘urgent’ change.

A focus on operations rather than strategy

This is more in relation to overall content strategy, but if you focus too much on operations you never really get the chance to make big improvements. It’s easy to get caught in a reactive maintenance loop. It’s hard to say we need to define our taxonomy, overhaul the information architecture, or conduct a usability review.

I think the past few years and the rise of ‘real time’ media (as David Meerman Scott calls social media) have placed pressure on some of these monoliths to be more on the ball. Policies have been developed, Facebook pages created, Twitter accounts activated. But still I don’t think there’s much strategic thought being placed around how content is managed and governed.

I don’t think government is alone here. Most large organisations face similar battles.

What do you think? What’s your experience? Have you worked in a place like this?


This post was written by Sally Bagshaw

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Natalya March 23, 2011, 11:35 pm

    Sally — I’m flattered that my recent blog post led to this one. It’s great to hear your take as a former government employee. For any organization (and especially large ones like government agencies) without a strong champion at the top, as you said, it’s easy to get caught up in being reactive. Whether that champion brings in an outside consultant/agency or fosters the creation of the strategy by an internal team, it takes a push to get out of that loop.

    • Sally Bagshaw March 30, 2011, 7:19 am

      Hi Natalya
      Not a problem at all. I hope we get to catch up at Confab.

  • Liam King March 29, 2011, 12:40 pm

    Brings back a few memories from my time in a government dept web team.

    From my experience, the key is a sending out a perceived shift from being simply “the publishers” to being the “experts” who firmly resist poor quality content.

    Easier said than done of course.

    My one tip: pick out the worst offending content owners (the ones with out of date, reputation damaging content, the ones you have asked nicely too many times) and archive their pages. Follow it with a an email breaking down why their content was unfit for purpose, with an olive branch offering to work with them to improve it and republish it.

    I’ve done this and it instantly shifts the perceived balance of power back to the web team and sets a precedent to other content owners that you aren’t simply the guys who hit publish on any old rubbish.

    Sounds a bit bullish, but so be it if you get good content.

    • Sally Bagshaw March 30, 2011, 7:21 am

      Liam – I like your approach!

      I think it’s important to give the web team the ability to do something like that. The business areas can still be the subject matter experts – but the web guys can enforce standards.

      I know of an intranet manager who was like that. She’d archive whole sections of the site and only put things back if people noticed. Which often they didn’t.


  • Jeff Beddow August 28, 2011, 8:58 am

    I have worked for 14 years on the website of a very large local government…I am currently shifting my role from a content editor to content strategist, and am trying to use the concepts inherent in this field to educate our staff.

    All the issues you identify here are still hot buttons in any government web office. Max Weber identified the key role of the bureaucracy as a flywheel…it absorbs change and flattens out the spikes of innovation. The web is like a volatile, combustible gas, ready to ignite and convey the flame throughout its entire volume instantaneously. I am happy to say I think the two modes of change can be integrated in a sustainable way…government can be more responsive and transparent, the web can settle down and outgrow its tendency to develop sudden rashes. Content strategy is a promising integration of quite different time frames, in this regard.

    I am glad I found this blog and look forward to expanding my content strategy universe.

    • Sally Bagshaw August 29, 2011, 12:47 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Jeff.

      Have you read any of Alpha.Gov.Uk’s blog? Some really interesting discussion about the government and web.


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