By Tom Jelen
Associations are generally experts in governance. However, they may have a blind spot when it comes to governing their digital presence.
A lack of digital governance causes many of the same problems that a lack of association governance causes for an organization: a lack of accountability, a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities, and an inability to make good decisions in the face of change and uncertainty.
The general result of the disorder is a digital presence that does not serve members and customers well. Sites may not look like they come from the same organization, integration may be nonexistent, and staff may be frustrated by the lack of coordination and consistency. The good news is that digital governance can help an organization break through the fog and move forward with greater discipline and certainty.
As Lisa Welchman explains in her book, Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design, “Digital governance is a discipline that focuses on establishing clear accountability for digital strategy, policy, and standards. A digital governance framework, when effectively designed and implemented, helps to streamline digital development and dampen debates around digital channel ‘ownership.’”
Let’s take a closer look at each element of governance:
An organization’s digital strategy provides the foundation for what the organization hopes to achieve with its online presence. There are many ways to define strategy. My preference is to keep it simple and work to define high-level objectives, tactics for achieving the objectives, and the specific measures to determine progress towards meeting the objectives.
Since the digital environment changes so rapidly, a digital strategy needs to be updated frequently and should include perspectives from a variety of stakeholders within the organization. Ideally, a digital steering team can act as an ongoing steward for the implementation of the strategy. That team can make course corrections and identify when the strategy needs a wholesale update.
An association’s policies create a critical foundation for success – managing organizational risk and identifying the rules of the association. Policy documentation should be as clear as possible so that all staff – and in certain cases, customers – can understand and follow the rules. Policies should be regularly revisited to make sure they are up-to-date and in line with current business and legal requirements. Most associations will need policies for the following:
- Advertising and Sponsorship
- Data Privacy
- Domain Names
- Logo and Trademark Usage
- Social Media
Standards help protect the quality of an association’s digital presence. To work effectively, an association needs to determine which staff members need to be involved in setting standards for specific aspects of the organization’s digital presence, as well as who is ultimately accountable for the outcomes from the implementation of those standards.
Depending on an association’s business, the organization may need standards for some or all of the following domains:
- Branding and Design
- Customer Support
- Digital Marketing
- Email Communications
- Information Architecture
- Product Management
- Project Management
- Site Search
- Software Development
- User Experience (UX)
For each Policy or Standards domain, an organization should develop a “RACI” chart to clarify the various roles of each person or group:
- Responsible: Who does the work? Must be exactly one person, although others can certainly help.
- Accountable: Who has to explain actions or decisions? Must be exactly one person, and it may be the same person assigned to Responsible
- Consulted: Who needs to provide input or feedback on what is being done?
- Informed: Who needs to know what the outcome or decision is?
As Lisa Welchman concludes, “a digital governance framework delegates authority for digital decision-making about particular digital products and services from the organizational core to other aspects of the organization. This allows the organization to effectively decentralize production maintenance of its digital presence.”
After a basic governance framework has been developed by various functional units, it requires leadership approval to move ahead with the development of policies and standards. Because change is constant, digital governance is an ongoing effort.
Start with your policies and then work on the high priority standards. Enlisting outside help can be beneficial if you are having trouble getting started, and don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Some governance is better than no governance. You can always build on what you’ve started and make it better over time.
Tom Jelen has been working in nonprofit and association technology since the era of Web 1.0. He gets energized by helping associations use digital technology to build new products, services, and business models. Learn more from Tom and the strategic technology consulting team at DelCor at Delcor.com.