It seems that everyone these days is talking about “governance.” But what is it, really, and how can you make good governance usable in your agency?
The federal government developed the Digital Government Strategy to deliver better Web services to the American people. The strategy is based on the notion of focusing on customers—the American people—and their needs in terms of providing access to high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device. Governance offers a practical, supporting framework for managing the myriad of content, applications, services, and platforms for managing this complex endeavor. Guidelines were developed for governance using agile methods in response to the Strategy.
This case study provides examples of implementing digital governance from experience with Project Evolve for SAMHSA.gov.
Project Evolve at SAMHSA
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. Project Evolve (PE) is the Web transformation and modernization project within SAMHSA. Begun in late 2011, Project Evolve is an ongoing effort to improve and consolidate the SAMHSA.gov website.
Site migrations and transformations happened throughout fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Entering fiscal year 2015, the PE Team turned to its governance matters in earnest to help create enterprise-wide solutions that support the goals of the Digital Government Strategy.
Functional Work Areas Drive Governance Challenges
At the start of this fiscal year, the PE Team realized that challenges existed in and across multiple work areas. This was because each governance area had some relationship—an interaction, interdependence, or coactivity—with some other governance area or areas. As we migrated content from dozens of SAMHSA-owned sites into one integrated site, SAMHSA staff needed to be operating in a new paradigm. In the course of identifying content owners, we needed to determine the scope of their content and their roles and responsibilities, both outside and inside the Drupal Web content management system (CMS). Of course, all of our supporting activities would be impacted, including usability testing, communications and change management plans, content strategy, and training programs. And, we needed to coordinate across teams.
Governance Needs Practical Solutions
We started solving the challenges of governance by changing our thinking about governance. We used a business reference model (used by the federal government) to help us focus on work areas (functional governance) first rather than the organizational structure behind it (operational governance). In this way we were able to reduce very large project areas to the simplest, component parts (that is, the ones we knew needed immediate attention):
- Content owners (staff identity and their roles and responsibilities of content areas and through workflows)
- Current content workflow outside CMS
- Drupal CMS (content workflows and roles and permissions)
- Supporting areas (usability, communications, training, content strategy, change management, and more)
- Documentation (for example, Web style guide, CMS user guide, standard operating procedures)
Focusing on the functional governance areas aided immensely in our ability to help SAMHSA model solutions that supported the goals of the Digital Government Strategy.
Mapping Governance Success
Only after we had all of the pieces of the puzzle before us were we able to develop a governance strategy tailored to the specific business needs of our customer. We titled it “Governance Convergence” to highlight the set of areas that had immediate and cross-functional relationships and impacts across the project. The document was less than 20 pages and included:
- A website governance convergence map (similar to the one shown here) to illustrate relationships and interactions between and among functional governance areas
- Explanations and discussions around the defined website governance areas, and unique challenges in and among each (for example, interactivities and interdependencies)
- Strategies for goals and solutions and measuring outcomes
- Draft work plans
Illustrating the enterprise-wide governance areas in this way helped make real the issues, risks, and dependencies for SAMHSA’s Project Evolve. They were, quite literally, staring us in the face.
Governance is a Process
The Governance Convergence strategy led us to tactics we could implement right away across multiple functional areas. We are doing that now through active work groups and cross-functional teams that focus on near- and long-term issues and plans.
As a content team lead working on SAMHSA.gov, I see every day how governance success is not a destination but a critical business process, with many milestones along the path to improvement. Near-term successes include closer coordination and communication efforts among functional work areas and teams; and enterprise questions being recognized sooner and moving up the chain for quicker resolution. We anticipate a key long-term success being better management controls and touch points over enterprise-related project activities. At SAMHSA, good governance ensures better outcomes.
- The Digital Services Governance Recommendations (a product of the Digital Services Advisory Group, Federal Chief Information Officers Council, and Federal Web Managers Council)
- Digital Strategy at HHS
- Website Governance article at Wikipedia
Robert Jacoby, MIM, is a Lead Content Consultant at Aquilent. He works as a content team lead and project management support for Project Evolve on SAMHSA.gov.