DrupalCon 2019 Recap

What we learned from our fellow Drupalists

On April 7th, our team packed up our bags and headed off to Seattle for one of the bigger can’t miss learning events of the year, DrupalCon.

“Whether you’re C-level, a developer, a content strategist, or a marketer — there’s something for you at DrupalCon.” -https://events.drupal.org/

As you may have read in one of our more recent posts, we had a lot of sessions that we couldn’t wait to attend! We were very excited to find new ideas that we could bring back to improve our services for constituents or the agencies we work with to make digital interactions with government fast, easy, and wicked awesome. DrupalCon surpassed our already high expectations.

GovSummit

At the Government Summit, we were excited to speak with other state employees who are interested in sharing knowledge, including collaborating on open-source projects. We wanted to see how other states are working on problems we’ve tried to solve and to learn from their solutions to improve constituents’ digital interactions with government.

One of the best outcomes of the Government Summit was an amazing “birds of a feather” (BOF) talk later in the week. North Carolina’s Digital Services Director Billy Hylton led the charge for digital teams across state governments to choose a concrete next step toward collaboration. At the BOF, more than a dozen Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona digital team members discussed, debated, and chose a content type (“event”) to explore. Even better, we left with a meeting date to discuss specific next steps on what collaborating together could do for our constituents.

Session Highlights

The learning experience did not stop at the GovSummit. Together, our team members attended dozens of sessions. For example, I attended a session called “Stanford and FFW — Defaulting to Open” since we are starting to explore what open-sourcing will look like for Mass.gov. The Stanford team’s main takeaway was the tremendous value they’ve found in building with and contributing to Drupal. Quirky fact: their team discovered during user testing among high-school students that “FAQ” is completely mysterious to younger people: they expect the much more straightforward “Questions” or “Help.”

Another session I really enjoyed was called “Pattern Lab: The Definitive How-to.” It was exciting to hear that Pattern Lab, a tool for creating design systems, has officially merged its two separate cores into a single one that supports all existing rendering engines. This means simplifying the technical foundation to allow more focus on extending Pattern Lab in new and useful ways (and less just keeping it up and running). We used Pattern Lab to build Mayflower, the design system created for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and implemented first on Mass.gov. We are now looking at the best ways to offer the benefits of Mayflower — user-centeredness, accessibility, and consistent look and feel — to more Commonwealth digital properties. Some team members had a chance to talk later to Evan Lovely, the speaker and one of the maintainers of Pattern Lab, and were excited by the possibility of further collaboration to implement Mayflower in more places.

There were a variety of other informative topics. Here are some that my peers and I enjoyed, just to name a few:

A Day in the Exhibit Hall

Our exhibit hall booth at DrupalCon 2019
Talking to fellow Drupalists at our booth

On Thursday we started bright and early to unfurl our Massachusetts Digital Service banner and prepare to greet fellow Drupalists at our booth! We couldn’t have done it without our designer, who put all of our signs together for our first time exhibiting at DrupalCon (Thanks Eva!)

It was remarkable to be able to talk with so many bright minds in one day. Our one-on-one conversations took us on several deep dives into the work other organizations are doing to improve their digital assets. Meeting so many brilliant Drupalists made us all the more excited to share some opportunities we currently have to work with them, such as the ITS74 contract to work with us as a vendor, or our job opening for a technical architect.

We left our table briefly to attend Mass.gov: A Guide to Data-Informed Content Optimization, where team members Julia Gutierrez and Nathan James shared how government agencies in Massachusetts are now making data-driven content decisions. Watch their presentation to learn:

  1. How we define wicked awesome content
  2. How we translate indicators into actionable metrics
  3. The technology stack we use to empower content authors

The Splash Awards

To cap it off, Mass.gov, with partners Last Call Media and Mediacurrent, won Best Theme for our custom admin theme at the first-ever Global Splash awards (established to “recognize the best Drupal projects on the web”)! An admin theme is the look and feel that users see when they log in. The success of Mass.gov rests in the hands of all of its 600+ authors and editors. We’ve known from the start of the project that making it easy and efficient to add or edit content in Mass.gov was key to the ultimate goal: a site that serves constituents as well as possible. To accomplish this, we decided to create a custom admin theme, launched in May 2018.

A before-and-after view of our admin theme

Our goal was not just a nicer looker and feel (though it is that!), but a more usable experience. For example, we wanted authors to see help text before filling out a field, so we brought it up above the input box. And we wanted to help them keep their place when navigating complicated page types with multiple levels of nested information, so we added vertical lines to tie together items at each level.

Last Call Media founder Kelly Albrecht crosses the stage to accept the Splash award for Best Theme on behalf of the Mass.gov Team.
All the Splash award winners!

It was a truly enriching experience to attend DrupalCon and learn from the work of other great minds. Our team has already started brainstorming how we can improve our products and services for our partner agencies and constituents. Come back to our blog weekly to check out updates on how we are putting our DrupalCon lessons to use for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts!

Interested in a career in civic tech? Find job openings at Digital Service.
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