In the Town of Lake Clarke Shores, Florida, citizens no longer have to wait to access valuable information about their town hall meetings, thanks to a new web site powered by OpenPublic and built by the team at Big Couch Media Group. Seeing a need for not only a site makeover but an overhaul of the tools that community members needed most, John Studdard and the Big Couch team put OpenPublic to the test, utilizing the responsive design theme and maximizing the available tools for citizen engagement, while also building new functionality for the platform. I sat down with John this week to hear more about the build.
Q. How did you come to use OpenPublic for this site?
A: As a resident of Lake Clarke Shores, the town web site was important to me. The old site was developed with MS FrontPage, had an extremely dated design and a cumbersome publishing process. Seeing an opportunity to help out my town promote Drupal we pitched the town administration on a refresh project. But, the town's budget was already stretched, and our original proposal to rebuild the site with a custom Drupal 6 build wasn't accepted. Then, early last year, we saw OpenPublic's Beta1 release, and we knew this could be a potential solution for the site. We evaluated the distribution and revisted the proposal, knowing that we could get Lake Clarke Shores a better site at less cost with OpenPublic.
Q. What were you most trying to accomplish with this site?
A. Well, we knew we could build a better looking and better-organized site for the town. But we wanted to do something more. Usually, the town's posture has always been to say "call us if you have a question." But because so many citizens have similar questions, this led to a lot of fragmented resident support hours, with town hall staff being asked the same questions, over and over. We knew there was a way to create more efficiencies for the town administration, allowing them to focus on providing more valuable services to citizens. So that became the central goal.
Q. What elements of OpenPublic were most useful to the build?
A. The "resources" content type ended up being one of the most useful pieces of the distribution for us. It really helped us to build a library of resources for citizens, and grew into the heart of the site. It's a great way for citizens to find what they're looking for without having to call or make a trip to Town Hall.
Q. What did you build custom for this site?
A. We needed a more robust events and meetings section for this site, and we wanted the ability to quickly and easily publish agendas and minutes from Town Hall meetings, again, as part of the effort to make more information available to more citizens, more easily and in a timely fashion.
Luckily, we attended CapitalCamp last summer, at precisely the point in the project that we were tearing our hair out over this issue. I went to Tim Plunkett's session that discussed the FullCalendar module for Drupal, and it was a great fit for us. We built a solution with FullCalendar, as well as two new content types, events and meetings, and some new views to pull it all together. The whole thing works with contributed, off-the-shelf Drupal modules, added to the OpenPublic distribution - we didn't need to build any custom modules. Overall, we couldn't believe how beautifully it worked. I think it took us 15 minutes total to get the FullCalendar module working in OpenPublic.
Q. Were you able to accomplish your goal of information access for Lake Clarke Shores citizens?
A. Yes, we were! It was really exciting to see this come together. Now, the meetings and resources work together really seamlessly. So now, a town hall meeting is scheduled, and citizens can see that on the calendar. And then when the agenda is defined, it can be added to the event easily. And when the meeting is complete, the minutes can be added too. All meetings are archived in the Resources section, so citizens have access to the full proceedings of each meeting, and can see what's coming up, as well. It's really efficient, and so far, we've gotten great feedback on it.
Q. Are you planning to contribute that back as an App for OpenPublic?
A. Definitely. The events and meetings solution is all built with contributed modules, and it would make a great App. We'd like to retool a few things in the content types before "app-ifying" it, but we think it would be really useful for other site builders, for sure.
Q. The theme is a nice variation on the OpenPublic base theme. Tell us about it.
A. Well, this is actually a very late addition to the project. We were about ready to launch, and then OpenPublic Beta4 was released, with the re-built Omega base theme. Out of the box, the base theme for OpenPublic is just gorgeous. But the re-built base using Omega offered another benefit to the city - the ability to publish to multiple devices.
You might not think that multi-device publishing and responsive design would be important to a small municipality, but actually, it is. Our town's council members all conduct their meetings and town business via iPad2 tablets, so accessing the resources and information on a site that works for their tablets is really important. When Beta4 came out, we rebuilt our sub-theme on Omega. It was far easier to sub-theme than the original base theme, and offered a really elegant responsive design solution for the site. It was an extra benefit to the city that we didn't think we were going to be able to provide.
Q. What do you think OpenPublic needs most?
I think OpenPublic's adoption would grow exponentially with the addition of more themes. We are big Omega fans at Big Couch, and I'm hoping that the use of Omega encourages more people to contribute themes to the distribution. The base theme of OpenPublic was a big reason that we got the project -- we were able to save our client a lot of design time and expense. We'd love to see more options there for future clients.