Governance Grows Up

Erin Kissane

One of the things that's consistently difficult about governance—the long-term management of content—is keeping sufficient resources available after a site launches.

If you think finding people to write, review, and revise content leading up to launch is tricky … you're completely right. But it's still easier than keeping those people available later on, once the adrenaline rush of launch has subsided and the never-ending process of reviewing and improving site content has kicked in.

One thing that helps is a set of good tools:

  • A style guide that genuinely supports your culture as well as providing clear mechanical guidelines;
  • A CMS that supports your workflow and makes publishing easier;
  • Page tables or content templates that clarify the fundamental purpose of each major piece of content.

But tools only work when there’s someone to use them.

People are really, really busy

The people who have the subject-matter expertise required to create and maintain content are often some of the most overworked employees in any organization—which is saying a lot, given the larger corporate trend toward over-commitment.

Content work—and especially online content work—is  more often presented as an "extra" job for subject-matter experts and anyone else expected to contribute content whose title isn't "web editor." And when the work is presented as an extra task that isn’t central to employees’ job descriptions, it tends not to get done.

So although most content strategists aren’t especially well versed in the management side of organizational dynamics, the problem of governance forces us to consider ways of reserving time, freeing up resources, and recognizing effort. And that’s why a video made by content strategy thinkers at Autodesk has cheered me up so much this week: it does so much right, and sets a wonderful example for dealing with this seemingly intractable problem.

Here’s the video:

 

What’s so wonderful about this approach is that the video itself is aimed at an internal audience. It explains the purpose and importance of the Autodesk content strategy initiative in clear, unpretentious terms and then goes a step further by breaking down the ways in which the efforts of people who contribute to the initiative will be recognized and considered as a part of their overall performance.

(The underlying content strategy is also based on what appears to be a very smart, disciplined system of measuring and refining content over time, but that’s another whole conversation.)

Dragging governance into the mainstream

The problems that this video addresses so directly have been around for ages, and we’ve all had to find ways of trying to resolve them. And because it’s not yet a given that organizations know they need to staff and support their online communications, many of our attempts have necessarily been workarounds.

For example, when a company really needs more people to handle content work, but can’t hire another expert, I’ve sometimes suggested hiring a part-time administrative person to help ease the burden of paperwork and free existing experts to spend more time on content. And a great web editor can often perform a certain amount of resource-allocation magic through sheer force of personality. But these are temporary solutions, not sustainable long-term plans.

By bringing the realities of content-related resource allocation into the mainstream of performance management, the Autodesk team has provided a clear example of simple ways of bringing content development and governance into the core of an organization. And their strategy was developed within, rather than being brought in from outside, which is a great sign. When organizations begin to understand content strategy at that level, the whole CS conversation can become more sophisticated.

Circle up

Whether you do content work within an organization or as a consultant, you’ve probably bumped into governance challenges. So let’s talk. Are you finding it easier to explain the need for long-term content resources, or are things holding still for you? What kinds of strategies are working for you?