Content Governance and Digital-First Public Experiences

Mike Cook
January 29, 2024

In September of 2023, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience, an important step in modernizing government experiences. If you’re part of a federal agency facing a detailed 32-page memo, it can seem daunting to figure out how to implement these requirements.

In a short series of blogs, A1M will look at different topics in the memo and provide recommendations about how to approach implementation of these policies. First up: Content governance. 

The messiness of content governance 

“For agency websites and digital services, content can easily become outdated or abandoned over time without strong internal agency controls to ensure that information is timely and accurate.”

This statement from the memo is hard to argue with, but only hints at where to start. What, for instance, are strong internal agency controls?

In our experience, almost all organizations struggle with content governance. The federal government faces a particularly challenging path because of robust requirements for saving and archiving data. But even private sector companies that appear digitally savvy often confront content messes piling up like undone laundry.

And like laundry or house cleaning, content governance is often seen as boring or dull work. Let’s look at how to get started based on your content maturity and the size of the mess you’re facing.

A fresh start

If you’re dealing with a small amount of content, you might doubt you need content governance at all. You’re not that different from an individual moving into a new space. Everything is clean and neat—at first.

Now is the time to implement regular content reviews and archiving. On one of our current contracts this is as simple as setting aside a few minutes every week on Friday afternoon to review documents and repositories and make necessary updates. The work rarely takes half an hour a week.

It’s also relatively easy at this stage to keep an up-to-date list of your current content. This can help you offer clarity and transparency for anyone who may wonder about finding the latest content. 

This work is not super difficult, and well worth doing. Small decisions can lead to big messes, and nobody wants to end up looking like a hoarder. 

Cleaning out the clutter 

Most organizations have a degree of content mess, with some rivaling reality-TV-ready hoarders. In these cases, you need to do a cleanout before implementing the techniques we’ve just discussed.

This cleanout begins with a content audit, in which you catalog content by characteristics such as: author, date created, topics covered, type (e.g., image, text, etc.). Ideally your audit should capture metrics on how or how often content is used. Once completed, your audit will shine a light on which content  you can purge and archive as necessary. Finally, the audit gives you a foundation for an ongoing catalog of content that you’ll want to continually review and keep current. This will make subsequent reviews and archiving easier.

Easier said than done, we know, but worth it. As the memo says: 

“The public should not be overly burdened with the responsibility to determine which online content published by the Federal Government is most current or most appropriate for their needs.”

Creating a content checklist

One way to go about implementing guidance like this is to turn it into a checklist for evaluating your organization. If we were to build one for content governance, it might look like:

☑️ Do we regularly review content? If so, how and by whom?
☑️ Do we keep a current, accurate list of content? If so, who manages it? 
☑️ Do we review new, proposed content against existing content? If so, how often?
☑️ Do we remove outdated content or sites? If so, when? 
☑️ Is our content dated and labeled appropriately? When is that done and by whom? 

Do all of the above and you’ve gone a long way toward the “strong internal agency controls” the OMB memo advises.

A clean (content) home is a happy (content) home

Delivering a Digital-First Public Experience has a wealth of information, including more guidelines on content than we can fit in this blog, so we encourage you to look through it. As you do, look for the signposts that can guide your organization toward more effective content governance and a better public experience.

Photo by Sear Greyson from Unsplash.

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Elizabeth is the VP of Design and Strategy at A1M. Before A1M, she worked at 18F, where she led initial design of and served as Director of Design.

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