Why Intranet Governance Matters


What’s going to be the big trend for intranets in 2010? Is this the year companies truly adopt social features in the enterprise? Will we finally come to an agreement on how to demonstrate ROI for enterprise 2.0 tools? What’s on the minds of intranet managers?

If you’re like the intranet managers that Jane McConnell just informally polled, then here’s your answer: Governance.

80% indicated that governance (principles, examples, and integration into “business as usual) was “very interesting and relevant for me.”

Governance. Not quite as exciting as microblogging or enterprise mashups. No, it’s not the technology topic you were probably expecting or want to be excited about. Of course, without it and without excitement for it, your intranet is destined for a bumpy ride.

Approaches to intranet governance vary widely in organizations – historical structures and policies shape how governance is applied (or not). So to shed some light on this topic, I thought it would be useful to provide a few links and some good definitions to help intranet managers and owners to ground themselves in some governance best practices.

What is governance?

Let’s start with a few good definitions:

Simply put “governance” means: the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented).
– Source: United Nations ESCAP: What is good governance?

Governance is the process whereby societies or organizations make important decisions, determine whom they involve and how they render account.
– Source: Institute on Governance

The take-away for both of these definitions should be clear: governance is about the decision making process.

And what does it mean to get your decision making process sorted out?

UK governance expert Graham Oakes has a great answer: “Well defined governance allows us to focus our energy on the decision, not the decision making process.”

Intranet success depends on the coordination of a wide range of people inside an organization. It is a multi-stakeholder initiative. Often there is ambiguity about the roles of the stakeholders. Who decides on what content goes onto the intranet? Who decides what technology is to be used? Who decides what the purpose of the intranet really is? Who decides who winds up paying for it?

And governance is not simply about “ownership” although turf wars between divisions also tend to characterize some of the issues that intranets face. Ownership debates about the intranet reveal the conceptualization of the intranet as a thing or material object, something that can be owned and possessed. Increasingly with social intranets, we feel this is an inadequate metaphor, where a more apt metaphor is that of a complex system, an ecology or a village or city.

While there is clear responsibility and accountability for the well being of a village or a city (someone is governing and “running” the city), its citizens share largely in the responsibility for making it what it is. The same is to be said with the social intranet, intranet 2.0. It’s the reason why Penn State Outreach named their intranet “our.outreach” instead of “my.outreach” — everyone owns their intranet, everyone is responsible for the well being of the content, the quality of the communication and collaboration amongst staff. That was a very intentional choice that the creators of the intranet made in naming it “our” — it signified a different approach, a change in thinking.

Just like the mayors and council who govern a village or city, intranet managers need to start asking themselves the question: how do I bring my intranet citizens into the larger decision making process? What does it mean to be an active participant in the ongoing decision making process of the intranet and indeed, the organization as a whole?

We’re interested in governance and the challenges faced by our clients in operating within complex multi stakeholder environments. What intranet governance challenges have you faced? How have you succeeded? What best practices did you learn along the way?

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