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Best Practices for Taxonomy Governance



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To remain relevant, taxonomies must be maintained. They must change to account for new kinds of material being created over time, changes in the world or organization (new products, partners, etc.), and lessons learned through experience with earlier versions of the taxonomy.

In a presentation at Taxonomy Boot Camp 2018, Joseph A. Busch, founder and principal, Taxonomy Strategies, shared the rationale and best practices for taxonomy governance processes based on the premise that a team should be established to oversee its maintenance. He described a sample framework for a taxonomy team, including a charter and suggested team roles.

Taxonomy Boot Camp 2018 is a part of a unique program of five co-located conferences that includes KMWorld 2018Enterprise Search & DiscoveryText Analytics Forum ’18, and Office 365 Symposium.

Why create a taxonomy?

According to Busch, there are six value propositions for creating a taxonomy:

  • Improving search
  • Being responsive to target audiences  
  • Providing capability to measure results
  • Mitigating risks
  • Facilitating complete and consistent content tagging
  • Enabling taxonomy oversight, monitoring, and improvement

What taxonomy governance enables

Taxonomy governance is the set of roles, responsibilities, and processes that need to be put in place to guide the development and use of a taxonomy so that it will remain consistent and cohesive as it evolves over time.  The taxonomy not set in stone, said Busch, and there are many things that cause it to change. If the governance does not change, it is portably not a good taxonomy, Busch added.

The governance team sets up and maintains the “rules of the road” for the taxonomy – they are not the “traffic cops” that enforce them, and governance artifacts are items such as process documents and editorial standard guides that are used in the governance processes.

It is all about sustainability

Initial efforts can quickly be degraded without effective governance. Triggers that can cause change include new kinds of content; new, changed or retired people, organizations, locations, products and services, and other “things”; new points of view, relationships or activities; and lessons learned through experience by observing and analyzing taxonomy and content use metrics. In addition, over time, a lack of oversight will result in an inappropriate assortment of poorly named categories that are ineffectively organized. A lack of coordination can also result in inappropriate, or incorrectly tagged content. If you don’t take care of these things it will be an underused taxonomy, and the lack of cooperation will undermine everything you tried to accomplish.

There are 3 pillars of taxonomy governance:

1-Roles, and Responsibilities include

  • Deciding about what metadata fields should be required to tag content
  • Deciding whether or not a controlled vocabulary is required for a metadata field, and what vocabulary should be used
  • Deciding the source for a controlled vocabulary and how should it be validated

2-Policies & Procedures are used to

  • Define the process to add, edit or delete metadata fields or controlled vocabulary terms
  • Define the editorial guidelines on how to form labels

3-Communications helps

  • Explain the process to request a change
  • Explain governance roles and responsibilities, including overall goals of the KO strategy, and decision-making process
  • Present the value of KO in a meaningful and concise manner

Importance of a Taxonomy Team Charter

Busch explained the importance of taxonomy team charter and gave examples of what team charters  might look like, including the roles involved such as executive sponsor, taxonomy manager, content owners, and content managers, and what those roles entail.

A team charter describes the taxonomy scope and overall taxonomy team responsibilities, including the team’s structure, and its members’ roles and responsibilities, the objectives of the taxonomy team, the materials to be created and maintained by the taxonomy team.

Many presentations have already been made available online at www.taxonomybootcamp.com/2018/Presentations.aspx and others will become available after the presentations are given.

KM World 2019 will be held November 5-7, 2019 at the JW Marriott in Washington, DC, with pre-conference workshops on November 4.


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