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Digital Governance Demystified

Learn how to create a long-term governance system for your hospital or health system.

We wouldn’t consider building our dream homes without blueprints for design, tactics for construction, and strategies for maintaining our new residence over the long haul. So why do we jump into creating our healthcare websites without embarking on the same kind of preparation and planning? Insert sheepish grin here.

Well, let’s take the mystery out of website governance, look at what a governance framework might include, and see how we can benefit from using governance to help us manage our healthcare websites long term.

Governance Defined

Like content strategy, the concept of online governance covers a lot of territory, carries a lot of meanings and takes a lot of forms. In fact, uniqueness to each organization is a key characteristic.

Lisa Welchman, author of Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design, offers a useful way to get a handle on the topic. She describes governance as a “discipline that focuses on establishing clear accountability for digital strategy, policy, and standards.”

How You Benefit from Implementing a Governance Framework

The whole idea is to help everyone involved in the website at your healthcare organization function more effectively. A governance framework may cover:

  • Editorial style guides
  • Procedures for what’s included in your publication calendars
  • Standards of all types, including design parameters, content writing templates, how to determine where a particular piece of content should appear on the site, and more
  • CMS functionality and operations guidelines
  • Service-line naming conventions
  • Domain strategy approaches
  • Guidelines for team roles, responsibilities and decision authority
  • How to set up discussion forums where you can resolve competing organizational interests

Governance lets your team stay focused on the work at hand by offering guidance and instructions about what needs to be done—and how and when and why—and who’s able to make decisions about each piece. With such a framework in place, we can avoid creating unmanageable websites that wander off in all directions or having work come to a screeching halt because decision-making responsibility is unclear or nonexistent.

Governance Supports Collaboration

When developing websites, we often think of governance simply as a way to capture the activity surrounding a piece of content—dates and people who created, updated and archived it. Taking on and tracking those specific activities and related issues are important parts of content governance. But content governance is only one aspect of the larger website or digital governance picture.

Primarily, digital governance establishes a workable structure to support collaboration across the many teams and types of work required to maintain an effective, long-term online presence for your hospital or health system. A governance framework identifies various decision-making requirements and processes that ensure requests are handled and tasks that move you toward your goals actually can be accomplished.

Potential Governance Components

A governance framework offers a larger and more strategic way to think about the activities, roles and responsibilities your current web team members already handle. In addition, your plan can help you identify emerging needs, understand how to remain effective and keep your website relevant as your hospital or health system grows. Among the typical components of website governance, you’ll find:

  • People – Appropriate skills, numbers, teams, groups, roles, responsibilities
  • Processes – Procedures, systems, structures, standards, policies, workflows, guidelines
  • Documentation – Written instructions in a central repository to support consistent use
  • Training – Regular opportunities to keep people up-to-date on relevant issues and topics
  • Tools – Resources, infrastructure and other items required to carry out governance activities
  • Budget – Financial support for governance activities and people

Because actual governance systems combine these components in ways that are unique to each organization or website project, we won’t find a one-size-fits-all, out-of-the-box solution. We need to do our homework and research, mix and match options from among several alternatives, run some experiments and expect to make adjustments along the way. But if we don’t start, life will never get better. And that’s the main reason to develop and use a digital governance framework.

Just Start Where You Are

Most of the time, we’re already in the middle of working on a website before we think about governance. No problem. Just start where you are.

Pick the issue that’s generating the most pain—maybe something like figuring out a process for delivering content to reviewers in a consistent way so they can quickly provide useful feedback. Pull together a team that both understands the content development process and recognizes what reviewers need to see (and what they don’t). Hash out a procedure the team and the potential reviewers can support—which might include setting up a writing template—and write down the instructions for using it.

Voilà! You’ve taken the first step toward creating a long-term governance system for your hospital or health system. Rinse and repeat for everything involved in setting up and maintaining your website or the activity you want to govern. Accumulate documentation as you go and keep it in a central repository. Then, organize, review and update it regularly. Over time, you’ll have this governance thing nailed. Insert satisfied grin here.

Jill Jensen

Digital Governance Demystified