Last week I attended a very informative webinar by Lisa Welchman on web standards called “The Impossible Dream: Defining and Implementing Corporate Web Standards.”  Web standards are a major component of a holistic web governance and management model.  Instituting web standards in any organization can be a challenge, but it is even more difficult in higher ed where decentralization and academic freedom often rule. It seems every academic and administrative unit believe they should not be forced to follow web standards created by the central web group. But a mature web presence requires standards.

The webinar provided some very valuable suggestions that are applicable to the challenges we face in higher ed. Here are my key takeaways:

  • When creating standards, you need to have the right people in the room.  My experience has been that the web team thinks that because they are the web experts, they should be charged with creating standards.  IMHO – this is the single biggest reason why standards aren’t adopted. I’ve seen way too many web teams try to create standards in a vacuum then wonder why they run into resistance down the road.  Lisa recommended that when creating a group to define web standards you need to think expertise, ownership, and authority.  She also recommended having “squeaky wheels” in the room.  Following this approach will go a long way to having the standards actually be followed.
  • Standards should not be just about best practices.  Standards need to support institutional goals and objectives.  On college campuses, individual schools and administrative units have unique needs.  Web standards must accommodate this reality. When things go wrong with web standards, it’s usually because you have bad standards.
  • Having standards does not make them real. You need enforcement.  That being said, when approaching enforcement, you can’t be on a power trip.  Change your paradigm from wanting control to following a protocol.  Instead of being the naysayer, you need to be the enabler.  You also need to pick your battles.  As former UB president Steven Sample said in his book The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership – “know the hill you are willing to die on.”

While listening to the webinar, I kept thinking of the  principles found in Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I have spoken often on “the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Web Teams”  and when it comes to web standards Habit Four: Think Win-Win, and Habit Five: Seek first to understand, then to be understood will help you achieve your goals.

So my questions for you.  Do you have web standards on your campus? Are they followed by everyone? Are they enforced?