In summer 2016, senior leaders at the U.S. Department of State were looking for ways to improve on the age-old system of tasking and collecting ‘papers’ (Word docs) for a briefing book for the incoming Secretary of State. Four years earlier, I was part of a team that transformed the delivery of this content. This time around, we wanted to improve the production of the content.Working with a product owner and project manager, I designed and built an intranet site and CMS that allowed all divisions of the Department to brief incoming staff on the basics of their operations in a visually compelling, yet standardized and sustainable way.
While the site itself is simple in design (built on WordPress with a good deal of help from ACS and other plugins), the approach was very novel for the institution, which hasn’t yet made much use of content management systems (at least, for this kind of content). We used this project as an opportunity to challenge the status quo of what it means to draft and clear papers, and to experiment with alternative methods of producing content. For example, this project was the first time in recent history that content producers from different divisions could see one another’s draft content as they wrote, which fostered a healthy competitive spirit that in turn led to higher quality content.
The outcome of this project was a site that delivers up-to-date information on the most important policy initiatives and projects in each of nearly 80 divisions across the Department. During transition, the Secretary and his team used the site regularly to learn more about the Department’s different functions, and now, employees across the Department use this resource to learn more about divisions other than their own. The site averages 345 visits per workday.
But perhaps more importantly, this project is proof that the Department can be flexible in how it creates content, and suggests that it can modernize not just its technology but also its business processes. This is a small yet important step towards a modern way of drafting and briefing in the State Department.
- Before development, I prototyped several options for testing and evaluation, and proceeded only after we had proved the site was easy enough for non-techies to use without formal training.
- I introduced this concept to representatives from 60+ divisions across the Department and served as technical liaison for all content editors.
- I developed the site myself, using Open Source tools (WordPress) and inexpensive commercial plugins.
- I made this the first State Department intranet site to adhere to 18F’s Web Design Standards, and one of the first intranet sites to be truly responsive.
See a blog entry I wrote in September 2016 about how to use the US Web Design Standards with WordPress menus – something I figured out while building this site.