24th October, 2011
2011: The Year of Web Governance in Higher Education
We have reached an important crossroad in the development of web communications and services on college campuses. There are two converging trends that will require us to take our sites to the next level. First, the web has never been more important. It has continued to mature and is now a strategic asset for the institution. The web plays a mission-critical role in all campus activities. Secondly, higher education is being flattened. By flattened, I mean when the impact of the Internet and globalization render an industry unrecognizable, and in many cases, obsolete. Going to college in the future will be a very different experience, and the web will play a central role in that experience.
To move forward, we need fundamental change at the institutional level. It’s time the web is taken seriously on college campuses and given the appropriate resources and structure. I believe the way to achieve this is through formal web governance. During the course of my travels, I have seen only a few colleges and universities that have a true web governance and management structure in place. Without governance many problems arise including:
- The web being thought of as a collection of micro-sites rather than a single entity. Academic departments and administrative units think they have their own sites rather than being part of a larger web presence. Usability suffers because visitors expect a unified web presence and instead find a site that is graphically diverse, difficult to navigate, and content that is often redundant.
- No articulated, measurable goals making it difficult to measure the ROI of web efforts. This is particularly challenging in higher education where there is no real financial bottom-line and the goals are not measured by profits
- With everyone doing their own thing, there are resource inefficiencies result in wasting time and money. This comes at a time when the fiscal pressure on college campus is resulting in the elimination of academic programs and administrative services. I know many college websites that are well over 100,000 pages. The majority of these pages are not needed and it was a waste of time and money to create them in the first place.
- Senior administrators are disengaged from the web. If they are thinking about the web at all it is viewed as a cost center rather than a strategic asset. In most cases the web simply isn’t on their radar as they deal with other pressing issues.
This all needs to change. I’m on a mission. I want 2011 to be remembered as the year web governance became a focus on college campuses. It is time to bring formal web governance to the academy. For many, the idea of governing and managing a higher education website seems counter-intuitive. When you combine the general freedom of the web with the academic freedom and the decentralized organizational structures found in higher education, attempts at governing and managing this chaos seem fruitless. But bringing web governance to higher education can, and must, be done.
As I’ve presented about web governance this year, I’ve encountered considerable skepticism, but remember, web governance is your friend. It will address many of the common frustrations by providing a framework for doing things right: having the right people make the right decisions, getting the right amount of resources, and working on the right projects for the right reasons. Web governance will cut across organizational silos and support a more strategic and comprehensive approach to web development.
Mark Greenfield specializes in strategic planning, web governance and management, social media strategy, user centered design, emerging technologies and web accessibility for higher education.
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