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Effective Taxonomy Governance, Part 1: The Taxonomist’s Role

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The key to successfully creating, implementing and maintaining a taxonomy in an organization is having an effective Taxonomy Governance Plan. The governance plan is the road map that coordinates the efforts of everyone involved as they go through the phases of developing a taxonomy that is fully integrated with the organization’s Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system and becomes part of the daily workflow. The goal of this three-part series is to provide an in-depth look at the taxonomy governance road map for each of the three main teams that need to work in tandem to accomplish this goal: the Taxonomist, the IT/System, and the Enterprise.

Let’s start with the taxonomist.


The Taxonomist’s Role

The taxonomy team is charged with the crucial task of creating the taxonomy. An effective taxonomy governance plan clearly sets the parameters of what domains the taxonomy is going to cover and what it is that the overall project is supposed to accomplish. The governance plan also gives the team the credentials and organizational support that they need to conduct user interviews with key stakeholders and perform the content audit. With the guidance of the governance plan, they are able to focus their efforts on gathering key terms and concepts that should be included in the taxonomy, discovering all of the potential document repositories and content types, and understanding what is important to the people who will ultimately be using the taxonomy.

The content audit and stakeholder interviews inform the creation of the draft taxonomy. This draft taxonomy needs to be reviewed by stakeholders and user testing conducted to make sure that it is on the right track. After this critical review process, the taxonomy is put into the ECM system test environment along with some sample content to ensure everything is working before it goes live and becomes part of the daily workflow.

The implementation is just the beginning of the taxonomy governance process. The users will inevitably need to add new terms to the taxonomy to reflect the changing nature of their work. The governance plan needs to address the process for adding new terms to the taxonomy. The taxonomy team will receive requests to add new terms and make the determination of whether to add the requested term or not. There will be pushback from some stakeholders who may not be happy with the taxonomist’s decision, and the governance plan must address how to resolve these conflicts.

Once the taxonomy has been created and has been implemented, there will be reports and metrics to monitor how it is being used. The taxonomy team is on the front line seeing how the users are interacting with the taxonomy and their input is critical in determining the next steps that are necessary to make improvements.

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Friday Afternoon Tips: 5 Key Questions about Taxonomy Governance in SharePoint

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Some clients have said they don’t even know how to ask the right questions about taxonomy governance. Based on the Taxonomy Governance for SharePoint guide (see more in our Store), here are five key things to think about regarding governance and your taxonomy in SharePoint:

1. Why is a taxonomy necessary? A taxonomy (or a collection of taxonomies) provides a foundation for how a company can control and use terms and vocabularies across all of its assets and content/information systems.

2. How long does it take to create a taxonomy? An initial taxonomy can be created in as little time as a month, but most take 2-3 months to establish and many more months to be fully integrated into one or more systems (e.g. SharePoint).

3. Why does a taxonomy need governance? Taxonomies can grow rapidly and can quickly become outdated or unnecessarily complex unless some kind of rules and processes are in place to help with control and planned growth.

4. What kind of governance ‘model’ is best? Of the three main types of governance models (defined below) – centralized, decentralized, autonomous – in most cases the best is a decentralized approach that works best for growing and maintaining a taxonomy.

5. Who’s going to maintain it? For those without the services of a professional taxonomist or trained knowledge manager, maintenance can be accomplished with shared responsibilities within the existing staff. The harder part is how the taxonomy should be maintained and even expanded and improved over time.