4 simple questions for governing collaborative content


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The 4 Questions

Whether you’re using a real social intranet like ThoughtFarmer or using something more akin to SharePoint team sites, managing the explosion of user-generated content is becoming the intranet manager’s Moby Dick. But you can tackle this beast early and create a strong governance framework for collaborative content by addressing 4 simple questions.

Governance is about people, not just an HR policy

Before jumping into the fray, remember the true nature of good governance. While a company should have smart HR policies in place, that’s only the beginning. The array of official policies on your books won’t magically solve your governance problems.

The real challenges of governance spring up around issues of responsibility and communication. A little while back our man Gord wrote about governance as the decision making process and helped define the issue. Here we’ve whittled governance of collaborative content down to 4 simple questions. Address these and the untamed beast will seem a lot more friendly.

Q1: Who can create groups?

First you need to decide who can create new groups (“team sites” in SharePoint lingo; also “Rooms”, “Spaces”, “Communities”, etc.), which may not be simple because they come in several different flavors.

Common types of groups

  • Office
  • Department / Division
  • Project team
  • Community of practice
  • Community of interest
  • Social group

If any employee can create a new group, before you know it there may be three different groups devoted to a single project. Duplication like this can cause confusion and create new information silos.

But if only IT staff can create new groups, you may find employees reticent to jump through the necessary hoops. The key is to work with your intranet team and find something that makes sense in your company, with your intranet software.

No matter what route you take, explicitly state who will be responsible for tracking creation of new groups and how people will resolve issues that arise. On a social intranet it’s better to make group creation easy, but you need a process to keep tabs on it.

Q2: Who is responsible for each group?

When I lived in Boston I organized weekly after-work soccer games from April through October. After five summers of organizing these games, we had developed a fun and diverse group of players and everyone knew where and when the games would take place. Whenever new folks showed up I’d explain the basic rules and add them to the email list. These games never would have happened if someone (me, in this case) hadn’t consistently looked after the email list, sent out reminders, welcomed new members and helped them acclimate.

A group page on the intranet is like this — it’s an online community that needs an explicit leader looking after it. This leadership role is more like that of a facilitator than a captain. Without someone with explicit responsibility for looking after the online collaborative space, it’s sure to fall into disarray. This role is often considered a “Community Manager” and can happen on both the micro level for each team and a macro level for your entire social intranet.

To address the question of group responsibility, be sure to create a specific role for group managers and come up with a plan for orienting new group managers and providing ongoing support.

Q3: How do you deal with old content?

If it’s ridiculously easy to add new blog posts and upload documents on your social intranet, people will do it. They’ll do it, and do it, and do it until the collaborative content is overflowing.

Many companies have document-heavy processes, which leads to oodles of collaborative content. Even worse, companies with unclear processes and a lack of standards can have even more documents as people reinvent the wheel on every project. Either way, you’ll find working documents will lose relevance very quickly and you’ll soon have a huge collection of content that nobody needs any longer.

To deal with this problem, teams need to communicate about it and agree on a plan ahead of time. Each group manager should continually work with the team to identify the most important types of information to share and establish clear methods for posting and editing that material. You may need to set aside a Friday afternoon every six months for a “purge party” – a time for all the team members to review old content and get rid of or archive what’s no longer needed.

Just like any aspect of a social intranet, dealing with old content is a people issue as much as a technology issue. That’s why it’s so important for each group page to have a responsible group manager.

[photo] I deleted 70,000 pages on our intranet. No one noticed.
Postcard from Intranet Secrets

Q4: How do groups build relevant IAs?

If your team’s Shared Drive was a jungle, your collaborative content on the social intranet won’t fare much better.

Even in the world of social computing, information management is still important. In order for team members to find collaborative content quickly and easily, there must be shared expectations about the navigation structure on the group page. The best approach is to move your collaborative processes one-by-one from email and shared drives to your group page and build a categorization scheme as a team.

For example, start writing meeting agendas and notes as wiki-style pages on your group page and email around the links. This can reduce the number of emails team members receive and make it easy for everyone to find the latest copy. Discuss this new approach with the team ahead of time, though, so everyone knows how this specific process is moving from the old workflow to a new one. Make sure all the team members can find the meeting agendas on the group page and know how to edit and comment on them.

A group manager can lead the effort to move collaborative work flows to the group page, but it needs to be a team effort to succeed. As you move workflows, the team can build a consistent navigation for the group page that all members are familiar with. If just one person is responsible for setting up a group page, she’ll likely try to set up a complete categorization scheme that makes sense in her own mind. But that will make it harder for other team members to get comfortable and adapt to the new ways of working.

It will be important for the team to review and revamp their growing group page structure occasionally. Make this a social, collaborative process that involves group members. Again, it’s about people, not technology.

Intranet team’s role: Collaboration consultants

When it comes to governing collaborative content, the central intranet team becomes like an internal consultant. They can provide a simple framework, help teams assign responsibilities and plan for success, and provide ongoing guidance.

Final suggestion: Work with stakeholders and social intranet champions to define these governance approaches. Take a collaborative approach to governing collaborative content.

Looking for a clear and simple path to a new intranet? Download our free Intranet Buyers Workbook to learn 10 key steps in evaluating intranet solutions.


Join The Discussion

  1. Peter Richards

    These are very relevant questions. Especially in the current environment where some organisations may implement social and collaborative systems simply because it is the latest thing to do.

    I could discuss at length each of the four questions posed above but I do have work to do so I will just pass on a strategy that has worked for me and does address most of these problems.

    I have found that I can always find at least one person in each division that enjoys being involved with the latest technology. If you can identify and recruit these people to become your divisional collaboration administrators you are half way there. It is of the utmost importance that you engage and support these people. They need to be well trained and well informed regarding the relevant formal governance and policies for your social Intranet. Even better, use this team of people to formulate the policies and make it enjoyable. Arrange for all your administrators to go off site for half a day and do the work in a park by the ocean (we are lucky in Sydney to be able to get places like this) but anywherer away from the normal environment will do. Hold regular gatherings to discuss issues and come up with solutions as a team.

    In a short period of time you will have a team of collaboration expert evangelists to go back to their own divisions to help others play by the rules so to speak.

    Now this strategy works very well if you are all in one building or city however if your organisation is geographically dispersed you could set up your team of potential collaboration gurus online using all the collaboration tools you have. The main thing is to train well, support well and make it as much fun as possible.

  2. Maish Nichani

    My two cents:

    Sharing content out of a collaboration space is key to some organisations. For example, in one organisation we’re working with, people work together to create a plan of action for launching a product. Now this launch plan is very useful for other teams as well. Because there is no planned way of sharing this content, nobody thinks about sharing, and the valuable piece of information sits within the confines of this one space. A part of governance is also talking stock of sharable content and hopefully the interface is easy enough to “pass along” this content to others.

    • Ephraim Freed

      That’s a great point Maish. Sharing content across specific group pages is crucial for intellectual cross pollination and reducing duplicate efforts.

      A lot of folks who use SharePoint see group pages (team sites) as very siloed, which is due mostly to SharePoint’s highly compartmentalized architecture. Other types of social intranet software make it much easier to discover and connect with other teams’ content. But the intranet team still may need to be sussing out connections the old fashioned way, from their perch overlooking the entire intranet.

      @Peter I love the clarity and specificity of your approach. You obviously have gone through this and found success.

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