Govern or be Governed! or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mob with Pitchforks

Govern or be Governed! or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mob with Pitchforks
David DeMello, Director of Web and Digital Strategy, Cornell University – ILR School

David DeMello, director of web and digital strategy at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations is an old-school web guy, working on the web since the “build first think later” days of 1996, when he started working above the banks of Cayuga Lake.
During that time he saw a promising start for the school’s web team deteriorate over time into a hunkered down risk averse group that found out the people they served didn’t like them.
The proverbial beating his team took ultimately lead to positive change, he told an audience at #heweb12 during his talk “Govern or be Governed! or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mob with Pitchforks.”
The schools web team had built its own CMS and by 2003 was being asked to offer it as a service to other large departments on campus. But by 2007 restructuring brought on by the economic crisis lead to cutbacks. The web team adopted “defensive project management” to cope, DeMello said. Coupled with the appointment of new leaders, efforts to become more cloud-based in non-web IT areas and the explosion of web and social media use lead to keener interest in the activities of the web group that had been previously left alone.
Two studies were commissions and the results were ugly, DeMello said.
The reports found that:
There was a lack of understand of what the web team did.
A lack of written policies and standards were making it seem as if things were made up as they went along.
New requirements were exploding, leading to the desire for more web work and more mobile sites
Stakeholders wanted something different and there was an increasing perception that things were not operating as they should.
“We had a  maintenance-mode risk-adverse in-denial web team,” DeMello said.
The team was embarrassed by having their shortcomings laid bare and frustrated that a lot of the recommendations were items the team had been advocating for for years.
But it lead to positive change
“It did sort of allow us as a whole organization to get this thing out there, see what it was and try to move forward from it,” DeMello said
That process of moving forward included understanding the feedback, increasing communications from and to the team and proactively reaching out to the school’s community.
Some of the proposed changes often included “really dumb ideas,” DeMello said.
But others bore fruit. More direction given to the web team in the form of management coaches.
“I’ve been able to deal with somethings that were dragging me down for years and now they’re gone,” DeMello said.
Digital presence is now a top priority of the school.
A leadership committee from across the college formed to guide policy. Plans were made to address infrastructure shortcomings.
The message? Govern yourself, or you will be governed, particularly when a crisis emerges, DeMello said.
Develop a feedback loop of a team that can help decided “who in your organization gets to decide what web projects we work on, design, what content goes on the web, what to measure, where and how will the site be hosted.
“The idea that this can be decided on the dean level is something we have to work against and push back,” DeMello said. Share, communicate, document your efforts.
Create a governance structure before one is created for you, he advises.
“It’s more helpful to think of (web governance) as a system a machine or organism that are empowered and committed to clear common goals, they can start to move as one,” he said.