Office of the New York Attorney General Finds Great Fit with OpenPublic: An Interview with New Amsterdam Ideas

 When you're building a web site for a government agency, the importance of finding the right tool for the job can mean the difference between a simple web site and a true solution. For the team at New Amsterdam Ideas, OpenPublic was the right tool for the job of revamping the site of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. I sat down with Andrew Hoppin and Sheldon Rampton from New Amsterdam Ideas to learn more about their experience building with OpenPublic.

When you're building a web site for a government agency, the importance of finding the right tool for the job can mean the difference between a simple web site and a true solution. For the team at New Amsterdam Ideas, OpenPublic was the right tool for the job of revamping the site of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. I sat down with Andrew Hoppin and Sheldon Rampton from New Amsterdam Ideas to learn more about their experience building with OpenPublic.

Q. Tell me more about what the client needed for this site.

A. The team for the Attorney General's office needed one thing above all: empowerment. The IT team, working on a hand-coded HTML site built on Dreamweaver templates, had to directly lmanage the content of their web site on behalf of the content creators. The press and communications team in the office needed to be empowered to create, manage, and share content more directly.

Q. What made OpenPublic a good choice for you all?

A. First off, the OpenPublic distribution, because it comes with a demo theme and demo content, made it really easy and simple to show our client exactly what we could do for them. We could show them how they would be managing content, creating content, and sharing it from Day 1, and that made it easier for them to be ready to take over their site and have the empowerment they were looking for. The pre-packaged content and theme made all the difference for this client understanding Drupal, understanding how a CMS works, and understanding what we could do for them.

Q. And that empowerment concept carried through to the actual development of the project, is that right?

A. Absolutely. As a matter of fact, the Attorney General's office hired us to mentor them and train them, but they wanted to do the majority of the development for the site themselves. This team also had a commitment to hosting the site internally, which created a unique set of challenges itself. Outside development was kept to a minimum, and largely, the team worked within the OpenPublic distribution -- we helped mentor them on how to do that successfully.

Aside from providing a great starting point for demoing Drupal functionality, OpenPublic created an essential "end goal" for this team. As they were developing and building their site, they used OpenPublic's full demo content and theme as their "end point" benchmark. They knew "this is what it should look like, if we get all the pieces in place" and that helped provide a guide to the team as they were building. That guide was really important for a team as new to Drupal as this one, and for a team committed to hosting their solution internally. Without OpenPublic, we think it would have more likely that this team might have given up on Drupal as their CMS solution. 

Q. What are some of the distinguishing elements of this site?

A. The Office of the Attorney General has several different divisions, such as the Consumer Frauds Bureau or the Public Integrity Bureau. People need to be able to find news specific to that division, so the team created a site where people can find press releases and communications specific to a certain bureau or division. Additionally, the AG's team is now empowered to create a lot of web form capability in this site. Over time, citizens will be able to fill out more and more forms online, creating a better visitor experience and streamlining some operations for the organization.

Q. With multiple divisions and bureaus, and a strong interest in press and communications staff managing content, how did you handle editorial work flow?

A. From a technical perspective, we used the content review features already in place in OpenPublic. But the real key for us in editorial work flow was to roll out the addition of site permissions and training sequentially, not all at once. We started with the press and communications team, helping them learn the CMS and know how to add, manage, and share content. Thereafter, the team is planning to roll out additional content management to one bureau at a time, helping the press and communication team keep the quality of content very high, while empowering more people to manage it.

Q. How do you see OpenPublic continuing to help this site in the future?

A. We hope that OpenPublic will foster a community of best practice-- to become a "center of gravity" for  government teams that are newer to Drupal. Our hope is that such teams inside government will be thereby better able to respond to stakeholders' demands for new functionality efficiently, without having to scour the entire Drupal ecosystem. We think OpenPublic affords this organization that kind of opportunity, and it's a community we're excited to be a part of.

Downloads of OpenPublic can be found at Drupal.org. For more documentation about OpenPublic, visit products.phase2technology.com, and for help with your OpenPublic site, visit www.openpublicapp.com.

Karen Borchert