Content Governance

Establish ownership, user permissions, and workflows

October 15, 2015

If your website represents several internal stakeholders than you need a content governance policy. The policy should leverage the expertise of the stakeholders towards the strategic aims of the website. In developing the content governance policy for Bard College at Simon’s Rock, I approached the task as a design problem. Begin by identifying the problem you are trying to solve. Then create content categories, user types, and workflows to solve that problem.

Identify Priorities

The first step is to identify the issues you are trying to solve with a governance policy. I started by working with key stakeholders to identify the priorities. It is tempting to choose everything, but prioritizing forces us to focus on what’s most important and address the barriers. The process of prioritizing also demonstrates how certain priorities may be at odds with others. The social media account of a prominent politician may prioritize a policy that avoids risk, a news outlet may prioritize agility and turnaround, and a small non-profit may prioritize efficient use of resources. These priorities may conflict with others. Adding a layer of oversight is good for risk assessment, but it will likely reduce agility and efficiency since it requires more labor and more steps.

Here are some potential priorities to consider and they should be customized based on the situation.

  • Risk Aversion (avoid being “busted” or posting a mistake you can’t take back)
  • Consistent Brand and Design
  • Quality Strategy and Messaging
  • Accuracy (Fact-checking)
  • Partnerships (Increase collaboration across teams)
  • Agility (Respond quickly with live site changes)
  • Labor/Resources (Staff time and resources)

Design a Solution for the Priorities

After identifying the problem, create a governance policy that will maximize your top priorities and, to a respectively lesser extent, address your lower priorities. The path to the solution will depend on your specific needs.

Content Categories

One possible solution is to divide the content into categories based on the priorities. For example, if strategy is the top priority, group the pages that have the biggest strategic impact. Then create governance procedures that ensure the grouped pages adhere to strategic guidelines and that the strategy experts provide oversight. For pages with less strategic importance, they can be grouped into categories that have governance procedures to ensure other relevant priorities.

User Types

Another solution may involve dividing your users into groups based on their ability to support the priorities. If the top priority is consistent branding, give content access and oversight to users that are the most capable of ensuring consistent branding. Consider ways to provide materials and training that will improve users’ ability to support the priorities. Also consider matching your user types to your content categories. For example, the branding experts should work more closely with the pages that have the most branding return on investment.


The Content Management System (CMS) functionality has a big impact on the way the governance policy is operationalized. Ideally you can create rules so that access to writing, editing, and posting is consistent with your governance policy. It’s a bonus if the CMS can be programmed to manage the appropriate notifications and workflows. Whether it’s built within the CMS or not, there should be clear systems and day-to-day protocols for how content is written, edited, proofed, approved, and revisited.

The governance policy needs to consider available functionality and the return on investment of building and maintaining systems. Developing new systems may not be worth the effort. Prior to implementation, consider if it would be better to revise the governance policy to avoid complicated or labor intensive systems.


The governance policy can grow and adapt over time. Regularly assess the success of the policy and determine if changes should be made in order to better meet your goals.

Resources and Documentation

In addition to a policy, you will need to establish and document the content guidelines. This includes branding, voice and tone, content strategy, and web styles. You will also need to document and train people on how to engage with the CMS according to their permissions and role.