I’ve recently attended some great user forums around the launch of key government digital services in New Zealand. As with all these types of forums, there are frank and open discussions about service delivery for citizens across the country.

During presentations on a proposed governance model for new services, a question was asked as to why time was being spent on sounding out governance models during a beta stage of an initiative.

This scenario is but one example of a common misunderstanding around governance; that it is unnecessary or hindering in the rough and tumble of user research, prototyping, developing, designing out digital services that meet needs.

I want to outline how good governance is inextricably linked to user-centricity and quality and it is important to start developing it out early in the process of any digital service build as it helps maintain focus on service/product goals grounded in user needs.

I’ll also provide some pointers and practical tips as to how you can start this process.

Quality control

Digital governance has been described as "all of the policies and procedures which…is the supervision behind the management" of a digital service. Indeed this is true, but it should also be stressed that establishing governance structures, processes early can play a crucial part in ensuring that quality heralded at inception is maintained as the digital product/service evolves.

Building out agreed frameworks of control and ownership also helps digital teams 'protect the user' in preventing digital service standards getting hijacked by politics and internal wrangles.

paper prototype Begin the process of formulating agreed governance early in any digital project cycle.


Building frameworks for governance should include regular consultations and forums with senior management (across hierarchical organisations) and practitioners alike - particularly those 'at the coalface' of publishing, building the digital experience.

As the example starter paper (download below) outlines, these structures can take the form of Steering Groups, Advisory Boards, Coordination Groups etc. - and these should meet frequently, with clear agenda items, actions points etc.

"A successful website needs a web governance framework in place that defines its role and management."

Such forums encourage a culture of collaboration and sharing across organisations and provide opportunities to communicate work across departments.

Saving time

These agreed models should also afford digital service teams time to meaningfully reach out to their communities of users and engage regularly to ascertain changing needs.

Accordingly, savvy organisations ensure that governance structures are in place and embedded early. As Paul Boag states, without time for "strategic thinking, visionary leadership and a clear roadmap, even the best web team will fail to produce a sustainable website" - governance should allow for this time by setting out clearly, roles, responsibilities around digital service delivery.

Sample starter paper

So where can you start?…below is an example structure for a governance paper that should act as a 'starter for ten' for anyone wanting to flesh out. This is not supposed to be a set structure and of course is to be adapted as needed.

It is also important to remember that your digital governance paper should be a living document, changing over time - agreed and communicated within (and out) clearly.

Download sample starter governance paper.