I’ve written many times about why taxonomies are necessary for any kind of CMS, DAM or KM initiatives in the enterprise. Simply implementing an asset management system and letting it grow organically is no longer an accepted practice. There’s a reason why the term “SharePlosion” gets knowing nods when it’s mentioned in the same conversation about how content management systems are governed.

A taxonomy is no different. Of the dozens of clients I’ve had in the past 10 or so years who’ve implemented taxonomies in their systems, most fall into two camps: “We built it and left it on the shelf” or “We built it and work hard on it all the time to keep it relevant and useful.”

I’m paraphrasing of course, but the point is that taxonomies, like the enterprise CMS that house them, are always in need of governance.

An Outline for Taxonomy Governance

Over the next few months, I’m going to present my outline for how to govern a taxonomy, with just enough detail to be immediately useful but still leave you room to modify it as necessary for your company’s needs. Basically, taxonomy governance is organized into three main areas:

  • Taxonomy Development (more in this post)
  • Taxonomy Maintenance (future post)
  • Taxonomy Growth (future post)

Sounds simple enough, I realize, but often times clients I work with have no idea even where to begin.

Taxonomy Development

So let’s begin with Taxonomy Development (the other two areas will follow in subsequent posts, I promise). Taxonomy Development is about “Understanding” why you need a taxonomy, “Discovering” the value and purpose of a taxonomy, and “Applying” a taxonomy in practice.

For this post, I’m going to provide you an outline and some bullet points of support and some typical questions stakeholders have. This will eventually become a white paper that I will make available to you. In the meantime, here’s the first of three sections on taxonomy governance: Taxonomy Development.

  • Theory (provides a foundation that defines a taxonomy)
    1. Why taxonomy? -- Answers the question of why even bother to create a taxonomy.
    2. Taxonomy development -- How does a taxonomy evolve from idea to implementation?
    3. Taxonomy lifecycle -- What are the steps to creating and maintaining a taxonomy?
  • Value (attempts to explain why taxonomies are valuable)
    1. Search -- How does a taxonomy make search better?
    2. Navigation -- Why should you use a taxonomy for site navigation?
    3. Common language -- Is a taxonomy meant to support a Tower of Babel?
    4. Standardization -- How does a taxonomy standardize language in a company?
    5. Discovery -- What ways does a taxonomy help users discover new terms or relationships?
  • Purpose (proposes how taxonomies can be used for specific purposes)
    1. Add value -- What kinds of real value does a taxonomy provide?
    2. Reduce waste -- How can a taxonomy reduce wasted employee effort?
    3. Streamline choices -- Can a taxonomy be used to offer users a streamlined way to apply meaning by using tags?
    4. Extend capabilities-- How does a taxonomy extend the way information assets can be accessed and used?
  • Application (lists ways that taxonomies are used in Enterprise CMS systems)
    1. Technology -- What kinds of technologies benefit from using a taxonomy?
    2. Tagging -- How does a taxonomy provide the necessary tags for use in an asset management system?
    3. Guiding -- Does a taxonomy provide guidance to a user when navigating through an information system?
    4. Searching -- Can a taxonomy be used to improve the search experience?
    5. Promoting -- Can assets be promoted to users by using a taxonomy?
    6. Integrating -- What steps are necessary to integrate a taxonomy into a CMS, and can a CMS really use the full potential of a taxonomy?
    7. Imagining -- Does a taxonomy provide enough flexibility to allow a user to imagine new concepts, or does it take an ontology to do that?
    8. Standards -- What kinds of standards -- national or international -- are best to use for a taxonomy?
  • Planning (gets people and process in motion to create taxonomies)
    1. Project -- Is building a taxonomy a standalone project, or does it get included in other projects?
    2. Program -- How does a taxonomy fit into a company’s overall program management scenario?
    3. Corporate -- Is there really a way to build a taxonomy for an entire corporation, or is it best to build taxonomies for smaller functional groups?
    4. People -- Who, really, cares about a taxonomy, and who’s going to maintain it?
    5. Roles -- Got a taxonomist on staff? Probably not. Who’s a candidate to be an “Accidental Taxonomist”?

Next time, we’ll talk about Taxonomy Maintenance (it takes a lot of work, trust me.)

Editor's Note: To read more of Mike Doane's thoughts on taxonomy governance: