Web governance case study: UN websites get reviews and recommendations

Web governance models can apply to the smallest e-commerce sites as well as large and complex organizations such as the UN. Here is an example of the latter.

Continuing with my posts on web governance, this piece encompasses a case study of the United Nations (UN) Inspection Unit recommendations, which were presented at the Geneva Conference 2008 to forty UN agencies in an effort to identify common pitfalls and solutions for web governance and web strategy. The recommendations were based on the report, "Review of Management of Internet websites in the United Nations System Organizations", prepared by Nikolay Chulkov and Yishan Zhang for the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) of the UN. The review addresses the need for providing the governing bodies and executive heads of the United Nations system organizations with an assessment on the effectiveness and efficiency of the use of Internet websites as a communication tool for information dissemination.

The main purpose of the JIU is to conduct independent system-wide evaluations of UN agencies, inspections, and investigations related to the management by secretariats of human, financial and other resources. Evaluations and inspections within the UN aim at enhancing the efficiency of the administrative and financial functioning of the United Nations system, and at achieving greater coordination between organizations.

Early stages of the review

The review originated out of a proposal from the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) for two main purposes: first, to provide information to UN agencies, and secondly and primarily, to focus on the role of information dissemination within the UN and its system organizations. What ensued was an inspection of 40 UN system organizations at various stations throughout the world, involving in-person interviews, teleconferences, and video conferences as the methodology for the collection of data. Additionally, a questionnaire was sent to all JUI participating organizations, as well as discussions with the Directorate-General for Informatics (DIGIT), European Union, which provides technical guidance/support to websites established by entities of the European Union.

Why did the UN review its Internet strategy?

The key factors for a renovated website management of the UN System Organizations included the following:

  • The UN's organization's websites are the "virtual face" and likely the first access point by external visitors.
  • A poorly designed website causes more harm than good when it is not user-friendly. A well designed and updated website with a user-friendly interface presented in a clear and concise manner will attract new and repeat "loyal" visitors.
  • An excellent website means effective web governance with a well formulated website strategy which is aligned and integrated with the business strategies of the organization.
  • Policies and guidelines should be developed for stakeholders involved in the website management.
  • A content management system (CMS) tool enables a variety of (centralized) technical and (de-centralized) non-technical staff to create, edit, manage and finally publish (in a number of formats) a variety of content (such as text, graphics, video, documents, etc.) while being constrained by a centralized set of rules, processes, and workflows that ensure coherent, validated electronic content.
  • Other key factors include staffing, training, and funding for the website management initiative.
  • Website security management is another key factor ensuring that stringent security policy and measures are implemented.

A worthy quote from the executive summary of the review that I particularly enjoy:

"A prerequisite for an excellent website is effective web governance with a functioning decision making mechanism enabling efficient interaction between key stakeholders. Under web governance, website strategy must be well formulated, aligned and integrated with other business strategies, e.g., communication, human resources and funding. The implementation of the website strategy must be through clear, coherent, comprehensive and timely policies and guidelines."


Based on the requirements and the findings of the investigation, the review provided eight recommendations to the UN organizations on topics of web governance, website strategy, website policies and guidelines, implementation of a CMS, providing sufficient staffing, training, and funding, multilingualism and language parity, establishing a reporting mechanism for all stakeholders, and implementation plans to be drafted before the next UN session.

  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, specifies 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 HLCM, 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.

The eight recommendations from the UN JIN are a good web governance model, and can serve as a wake-up call for other organizations of similar size, complexity, and diversity. However, implementation of this type of web governance model requires a consistent and dedicated level of buy-in from the organizational stakeholders. Recent attempts for adopting Internet governance oversight was met with opposition at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) meeting in Nairobi by the governments of India and Brazil. While the recommendations are quite impressive, it remains that it takes buy-in on the ideas from all stakeholders to implement them across a large organization.


Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

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