Eight impressive recommendations on website governance and strategy

The United Nations Joint Inspection Body recently spoke to web professional in 40 UN agencies to identify what the most common problems are and how to fixed them.

The result is an impressive document that can be used by many non-profit organizations, NGOs, International Organizations and even government ministries and agencies to address similar problems in their own organization.

The “Review of Management of Internet Websites in the United Nations System Organizations” (31 pages) focuses on website governance and strategy – and I still have to meet a web manager who doesn’t feel this could be improved.

Extremely knowledgeable

I highly recommend that you read the whole document and use it as a basis for recommendations to your own senior management – but with the added authority of  this being based on broad consensus of web professionals who are working for very diverse agencies in the United Nations System with very different mandates and budgets.

To give you an idea just how good the report is, here are two of my favourite paragraphs:

“the Inspectors have observed through their interviews and discussions, the side effects of the status quo: the website becomes a ‘dumping’ site by units within the organization. Each unit wants to have its specific message and services be presented on the website, preferably on the organization’s homepage. To avoid this ‘dumping’ symptom which would easily confuse and discourage external visitors, the organization should have a website strategy, drafted, reviewed and endorsed by its key stakeholders within its governance mechanism”

and later:

“A website editorial board will provide effective guidelines on the writing style as well as improve the quality of information published on website. (…) The Inspectors are of the view that the lack of such editorial boards leads to inconsistent, and at times, conflicting web content being published.”


What I find fascinating is that these recommendations are not presented by web managers themselves but by inspectors of the Joint Inspection Unit, who are in essence auditors with no specific knowledge of the issues and no stake in the outcome.

The question of access and authority

The report also contains a very interesting table that shows that most web managers have direct access to senior management.  However, the Inspectors also state that “one wonders whether they are given sufficient authority to coordinate various organizational units involved in the website operation.”

Requirement to report on progress

Below are the Joint Inspection Unit’s eight recommendations for website management and governance. However, in my opinion it’s far more interesting to read how they come to these recommendations. A lot of them are common sense for most web professionals. But ask yourself: does your organization have this in writing and is there a requirement to report on progress? Because that makes difference.

Please also note, that responsibility for this is attributed to the “executive head”, i.e. CEO level.

Eight recommendations

1. The executive head of each United Nations system organization should ensure that clear policies and corresponding mechanisms are adopted for the good governance and management of the organization’s website.

2. The executive heads of each United Nations system organization should ensure that the website strategy be regularly updated and linked with and taking account of the other business strategies of the organization and report on the measures taken to the governing body on a regular basis.

3. The executive head of each United Nations system organization should ensure that policies and guidelines are in place that, among other things, specify requirements and standards relating to (a) web layout and design; (b) editorial control and review of web content and (c) web accessibility.

4. For relevant, timely and high quality website content, the executive head of each United Nations system organization should ensure the implementation of a CMS which offers full support to Latin, non-Latin and bi-directional scripts and, as far as practicable, be compatible with CMS used by other organizations. When selecting an appropriate CMS, they should give serious consideration to adopting common information exchange standards and also consider the benefits of a common CMS across the United Nations system.

5. The executive head of each United Nations system organization should ensure that sufficient and sustained funding for staffing and training are allocated to website management. If such funding could not be provided through redeployment or other means, it should be reported to the governing body for its consideration in order to implement those recommendations contained in this report, which have financial implications, inter alia, CMS, staffing, training, language parity, adoption of common information exchange standards, etc.

6. The governing bodies of the United Nations system organizations should establish an ad hoc committee dealing with the implementation of multilingualism on their corporate websites. The governing bodies shall review the report submitted by the ad hoc committee on the measures and financial implications to achieve language parity on their websites and take appropriate action.

7. The executive heads of the United Nations system organizations should establish a mechanism reporting to the High-Level Committee on Management with the participation of all stakeholders, for coordination purposes and to establish common policies, standards and guidelines on websites.

8. The governing bodies of United Nations system organizations should request the executive heads to report to their next session on the implementation of the recommendations contained in this report addressed to the executive heads, in particular those aimed at reforming website governance, updating website strategy and policy, and implementing multilingualism.

Use it!

One of the reasons that many of us don’t have anything like this in our own organizations is that we feel that we don’t have time to care about the fundamentals. But with this report as a basis I don’t think it should take more than two days to adapt it for your own needs. And everybody can find that time. So don’t hesitate to use this report – your taxes have already paid for it.

Many organizations have excellent documents that hardly anyone knows about. Do you have any that you would like to share? Please leave a comment and a link!

  • It is good to know that they are taking web governance seriously. But kinda depressing that they have so many issues.

    (From experience, I know that UN peacekeepers would be helpful on many web teams for keeping different factions from tearing each other apart.)

    Globally though, it seems as if something is happening about governance. Over the past few years many long-standing issues of web development have been solved (or are being far better handled) including technology, design and content.
    Governance might at last be about to enter that hallowed state.

    • Thanks Shane. I have to admit I find it a little funny that you think that they have so many issues. I actually think that it's quite refreshing that they were able to come up with with less than ten recommendations which should be adopted by the the UN agencies. After all, these agencies are so radically different in size and structure that I would expect them to have very different issues as well. That the inspectors were able to agree on eight recommendations that are required across the board gives them a lot of weight, in my opinion.

  • Thank you for discovering and sharing this document. It gives weight to all I have recommended in the past to other organisations.

  • Pingback: Great reads from around the web on October 28th at Amy Sample Ward’s Version of NPTech()

  • Pingback: UN recommendations on Web governance | Web Governance()