An online tool’s usefulness often depends on whether people know how
to use it. With this in mind, the Council of State Governments (CSG), a
regional forum and network for state governments, redesigned its
unwieldy database of policy information. In May, the council opened the Knowledge Center,
an online collection of more than 700 policy reports, resolutions, blog
posts and magazine articles that have been narrowly categorized and
tagged for easy access, rich content integration and seamless
The website uses the Drupal content management system, which allows the
CSG’s content division of about 15 people to update the Knowledge
Center, usually without technical assistance. As a result, the database
is growing quickly — by about 50 items per month.
On the CSG’s previous website, all the information was there, but users
had to hunt down each piece of information separately and needed to
understand the structure of the website to find what they were looking
for, said Jennifer Boyter, associate director of policy and special
libraries for the CSG.
“With the Knowledge Center, you don’t have to know how we’re organized
to find things,” Boyter said. “If you have a legislator who’s a chairman
of a health committee, for example, he can find information just
related to health and filter it that way and it’s all in one place.”
Connecticut state Rep. Bob Godfrey, co-chair of the CSG, said the
Knowledge Center is a great hub of policy information that allows users
to easily keep track of what’s going on.
“It’s on my list of favorites of the to-be-checked-daily column,”
Godfrey said. “It’s just so handy. We need an abbreviated way to get
detailed information on an issue we’re involved in that will allow us to
ask intelligent questions.”
Godfrey, who has been working on bringing high-speed rail to the
northeast, can check the Knowledge Center for information on broad
policy areas such as transportation or energy, or he can filter those
results down to the “high-speed rail” or alternative funding sources
category. Once he has finished reading a news article about federal
intercity rail funding, for instance, there is a box labeled “More like
this” that contains closely related articles, which provides an easy
transition to something else he may be interested in.
Staying in touch with what’s going on across the country and seeing all
the information about a topic in one place is very useful, Godfrey said.
If he doesn’t have time to check the website, he can subscribe to one of
those categories’ RSS feeds and receive updates in an RSS reader or
stay in touch with CSG’s new posts via Twitter or Facebook feeds. In
other words, he can customize the type of content he wants to come to
him, rather than spending time hunting for one piece of data at a time.
Open Source Platform
An advantage of content management systems like Drupal is that they
allow relevant content to be closely linked. Many posts have charts,
graphs, spreadsheets and PDFs attached so users can take a closer look
at the data if they want. Providing downloadable content within the
articles also gives users an easy way of taking the data with them once
they’ve navigated away from the website.
CSG Web programmer Jason Burgbacher said they looked at a number of
different content management systems —free and open source systems like
Joomla and Drupal as well as some expensive enterprise-level options.
“Drupal is one of the most customizable content management systems,” Burgbacher said. “It’s really polished looking.”
Drupal is known for its active support community and thorough
documentation. The Drupal website has case studies that show working
implementations of what Drupal can do, with detailed explanations of how
the implemented features work. Burgbacher said he likes that.
Enterprise-level software was too expensive for the council’s budget,
and Burgbacher said he didn’t see any particular reason to use expensive
software anyway. In this case, Drupal fit the bill.
Looking forward, Boyter said the CSG plans to integrate more regional
content into the Knowledge Center. She said they’ve been playing
catch-up since launch, but their four regional offices (CSG East, CSG
Midwest, CSG South and CSG West) have a lot of content to offer that may
be useful to policymakers everywhere. Their plan is to put all of it in