How Can Governance Learn from Political Movements?

One of the scariest phrases I hear on a regular basis is “oh, yeah, we told [Client] we’d help them with governance.” Governance is a terribly vague phrase in UX. It’s as terrifying as politics. And it can mean many things.

  • A small governance model might be simple. It might be a list of typical roles that could help them successfully maintain a new design system.
  • A complex governance plan is typically a multi-month project involving initial interviews and shadowing employees, setting up new internal processes, and testing them out before both documenting and training people on how to maintain their success.
  • Governance involves people and processes, and is rarely beneficial if it’s a report. It requires buy-in, as well as compromise.

I’ve long searched for an analogy to help clients and colleagues understand what makes governance successful. Now, as friends and family fight for basic human rights, I’ve found it. Governance is, essentially, a political movement.

Here are three ways that governance can learn from political movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Occupy, and others.

#1 Governance Requires Evolution and Revolution

Whether they state it or not, all political movements have a goal. Some are hoping to evolve the way our society works. Others see their place as overthrowing the status quo and creating a revolution. Both have their place. In fact, typically both are required.

For example, a company might choose to evolve over time, and never aim too high. That company might successfully meet small goals, but never accomplish anything revolutionary. On the other hand, another company might shoot for the stars without a steady game plan. And they may fail altogether because they forgot to consider the requirements and constraints. Compare this to political movements that fail by taking on too much, or others that aim small and have no impact.

To that point, a governance plan needs to document the company goals. Good governance needs to both identify the big picture vision, and the small steps to get there.

#2 Governance Will Mature and Expand Over Time

Many political movements initially choose not to allow “outsiders” to be a part of the group. They actively exclude people who want to support them, in favor of empowering a core group. Consider, for example, the #MeToo movement. The movement initially invited only women to join, purposefully excluding men who wanted to offer support.

However, as a movement matures, the techniques they use shift. They become more inclusive once the core group has built the vision. In the same way, a good governance plan needs a core team. This is the group that builds the plan. Only later will they bring in additional supporters. Over time, as the plan matures, more and more groups will join. They will support the plan and help it to grow. In this way the plan will still change with new opinions and ideas. But it won’t be subject to quite as many differing voices in its nascent stages.

#3 Governance is About Actions

Lastly, we need to shift our thinking around “governance.” We say “governance plan” but a plan is not enough. Good governance is focused on actions. Don’t be a political movement that writes a manifesto and just leaves it, hoping people will read it and change!

Of course the plan needs to be written down, but more importantly it needs to be put into affect. Schedule training sessions, and follow ups. Meet with teams to see how they’re doing. Test out new ways of working together. Then update the documentation for anyone who wants to dig deeper. But don’t put all the focus on the plan. Focus on the action.

Create a Political Movement

How do you make governance successful? Define your vision. Choose your allies carefully. Focus on action over documentation.

Go forth and change the world.

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