Governance is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For records managers it's all about metadata. For C-level managers it's a way of preventing lawsuits. For others it's an organizational straitjacket.

This week Lisa Welchman published her much anticipated book on digital governance, "Managing Chaos." Welchman is a recognized expert in the digital governance field and president of Digital Governance Frameworks at ActiveStandards. I could't wait to read this book. And (spoiler alert) -- I was not disappointed.

With "Managing Chaos," Welchman helps her readers to develop a digital governance framework, with practical guidelines and insights into some of the dynamics that occur when organizations set up digital governance.

Why a Book on Digital Governance? 

According to Welchman, “digital governance is a framework for establishing accountability, roles and decision-making authority for an organization’s digital presence -- which means its websites, mobile sites, social channels and any other Internet and Web-enabled products and services.” You don't have any of those? Don't bother about digital governance. Lucky you! But for most of us it's time we start building a digital governance framework.

Every organization governs something. But many organizations haven’t decided to govern digital yet. According to Welchman, that kind of behavior has rather grave consequences. Lack of digital governance will hinder your organization's ability to change, which is lethal in the current age of change and disruption. The book offers guidance on how to build a well-designed digital governance framework. This streamlines digital development and minimizes the number of tactical debates around digital channel “ownership.” It gives professionals the mandate and space to do their work at their best effort. It makes organizations agile and ready for change.


Illustration from Managing Chaos: The digital governance maturity curve

Digital Governance Pillars: Strategy, Policy, Standards

The discipline of digital governance focuses on establishing clear accountability for digital strategy, policy and standards. A well-designed digital governance framework clarifies who determines the direction for digital (strategy), who specifies what your organization must and must not do online (policy) and who decides the nature of your digital portfolio (standards).

A digital strategy articulates an organization’s approach to leveraging the capabilities of the Internet and the World Wide Web. In the chapter “Digital Strategy: Aligning Expertise and Authority,” Welchman focuses on the process of selecting the right players to establish a digital strategy and on how to get that team aligned, which can be a challenge.

Policies are organizationally focused high-level statements established to manage risk. In the quite brilliant chapter “Staying on Track with Digital Policy,” Welchman explains that digital policies are guidance statements put into place to manage risk and ensure that an organization’s core interests are served as it operates online. In her words: “Think of policies as guardrails that keep the organization’s digital presence from going off the road.”

Welchman makes a strong statement on standards, the third pillar of digital governance: “Standards are the bedrock upon which the Internet and World Wide Web rest.” Well said. Standards can enable innovation and creativity. Welchman argues against those who say standards are straitjackets, “We can all agree that there’s a lot of innovation and creativity happening on the Internet and Web.” In the chapter “Stopping the Infighting About Digital Standards,” Welchman will turn you into a standards advocate with a mission.

How to Set Up Digital Governance

Welchman is very clear about two things: you cannot do digital governance as a web team in your nice and cool “digital savvy silo.” You have to align with other stakeholders in the organization.

In the chapter “Your Digital Team: Where They Are and What They Do,” Welchman makes the case that all stakeholders must have a role in digital governance. Welchman puts much effort into explaining the ins-and-outs of the Core Digital Team, the Distributed Digital Team, Working Groups & Committees and The Extended Digital Team. Each has their own identity, authority, location, role and budgeting source. This chapter includes a fill-in-the-blanks exercise to start a digital governance framework.


Illustration from Managing Chaos: Components of your digital team

Many organizations are lead by digitally conservative executives, who are taking longer to wake up to the strategic aspects of digital. That's the reality many have to work with. So digital governance is not for the weakhearted nor the impatient.

Instead of waiting for the time when everybody has drunks the digital Kool-Aid, Welchman offers tools to move forward with digital governance in the here and now. One of these instruments is the pièce d'existence of her book: the digital governance framework. The digital governance framework delegates authority for digital decision-making about particular digital products and services from the organizational core to other aspects of the organization.

Governance Separates Production from Decision Making

Digital governance frameworks have less to do with WHO in your organization performs the hands-on work of digital and more to do with who has the AUTHORITY to decide the nature of your websites, mobile apps and social channels.

This means a digital governance framework does not specify a production process. What a digital governance framework does is specify who has the authority to make decisions. This explicit separation of production processes from decision-making authority for standards is what gives the framework its power. It's also the essence of what governance is all about -- something we should keep in mind when we see someone drawing organization charts and call it “governance.”

This is why the “Five Digital Governance Design Factors” chapter is so important. In this chapter Welchman admits digital governance frameworks never exist in a vacuum. Five factors regularly influence or are influenced by the digital governance framework design process: corporate governance dynamics, external demands, Internet and World Wide Web governance, organizational culture and the nature of your digital presence.

Don't Give Up

I found this chapter particularly useful but also quite provoking. It makes me want to give up and wait for something really bad to happen, so people finally recognize the importance of governance. Welchman being Welchman, she's ahead of us all. She knows at this point we need her support and confidence. In the concluding paragraph, “Don't Give Up” she's like that coach that makes us run the extra mile. I've never seen such perfect timing in any book I've read.

Welchman understands the temptation to let things get out of control. But when all hell breaks loose, it's unlikely you'll take the time to make the right choices. Be proactive and design your framework in advance.

Governance? Just Do It!

For people like me, who suffer from digital governance anxiety, Welchman ends her book with three case studies she composed out of 10 years of governance experience: a B-to-B multinational, a government organization and a higher education organization. These case studies are digital governance best practices you can learn from and adapt to your own situation. Read it, breath in and out, and just do it.

Each chapter ends with a clear summary. And the sometimes complicated subject matter is broken up by valuable do's and don'ts, notes, examples and expert quotes. Governance is “heavy stuff,” but Welchman took the challenge of making digital governance more accessible and, in my opinion, excelled in the task. This is an author who transcends above the subject and shares her 20 years of digital experience (starting in 1995 in Silicon Valley) in an eloquent, structured and humorous way.

A Note to the Editors

Like all Rosenfeld Media publications, the cover of this work is beautiful. I'm a big fan of typography style graphics and this book cover is a new highlight. In contrast, some of the graphics inside are unappealing --I hope the next edition will improve the graphics. Paraphrasing Welchman's words: it wouldn't be “lipstick-on-a-pig,” but “lipstick-on-a-Disney-Princess.” The content deserves it.

The content also deserves some editing for consistency. Particularly in the first chapters where there were variations in explaining the same topic which were a bit confusing. It's good to take things from a different angle, but in my opinion explaining a complex subject like digital governance to a rather novice audience needs a consistent “regime.”

This is the Book You Should Actually Read

Don't leave this book unread on your book shelf or iBooks folder. "Managing Chaos" addresses digital governance challenges by offering a practical methodology for calming and clarifying roles and responsibilities of digital development. It may sound like a cliché, but this practical approach made "Managing Chaos" a must read. Anyone involved in digital should read it, share it, discuss it and live it. Once you start managing chaos the way Welchman sets it out for us, you will discover the long and winding road to digital governance is worth every step.

Editor's Note: CMSWire readers can receive a 20% discount on purchase of this book by entering the code "hartman" at checkout

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License Title image by  vil.sandi