Our Work


What Statewide Websites Can Learn From Drupal Core Mentoring

By Gwen Daniels on December 23, 2015

This blog post has been bouncing around my head since I heard Cathy Theys (Twitter: @yesCT), Community Liason at Blackmesh speak about Drupal core mentoring at DrupalCorn in late July. Why? Because I saw immediate parallels between how Drupal relies on contributors to build and maintain its code and how statewide websites often rely on contributors to maintain the information on their websites. (Editor's note: Drupal core is the basic, out-of-the-box Drupal content management system; it relies on a large number of volunteer contributors to maintain and improve.)

Drupal core mentors “inspire, enable, and encourage new contributors” to address the many open issues that impact the Drupal core code base. To create Drupal 7, nearly 1,000 people contributed. Thanks at least in part to the core mentors that number more than tripled to over 3,300 to produce Drupal 8.

This post outlines some of the concepts from that presentation and how we at ILAO might implement technical solutions to help encourage new contributors to our legal information.

All Contributions Matter.

Just as Drupal has core committers who are responsible for overseeing Drupal core, we’ve all got those experts that we rely on for specific areas of our websites. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a role for other contributors who don't necessarily have substantive expertise. Whether it is writing code, triaging and cleaning up issues in the Drupal.org issue queue, or writing and editing documentation, it all matters. And the core mentors emphasis that.

During my first Drupal core sprint this July, I didn’t yet feel qualified to work on the Drupal 8 core code. So I joined a table of folks working on documentation. And last week, I had to go look for something about Drupal’s book module. I smiled when I saw the “last edited by gadaniels72” (me!) on the page from my work on that sprint.

In our rebuild, ILAO is looking at ways to give users the ability to earn permissions to edit our content and move it forward in the publication process. If a user has shown that they are good at copy editing or plain language reviews or translating, let’s give them permission to do that directly in the website. It won’t happen with version 1, but as I write code around our workflow system, it’s in the back of my mind.

Recognize Contributions.

The Drupal community does things to recognize new contributions. At sprints, they’ll publicly commit code from someone who has never committed a patch before. (Editor's note: I don't know what this means, but it sounds like something that deserves three cheers: HIP-HIP-HORRAY!) In rooms that may have experts and frequent committers, to highlight the work of someone brand new demonstrates to the room that the work of newcomers is important to the project. In addition, everyone who has an account on Drupal.org has a publicly accessible profile as well as a more private dashboard. Anyone can see what a user has worked on and how they contribute to the Drupal community, including any commits they’ve made or contributed modules they've worked on. A contributor can also track the issues that they work on and care about most. (If we translate this concept into the Statewide websites world, this might mean that a contributor with a special interest in adoption might choose to track relevant content.)

In our rebuild, we’re building out user profiles that will be accessible to anyone in the legal aid community. We’ve talked about creating an engagement meter that allows us to essentially offers rewards/accollades (read: gamification) for using the website as well as dashboards for people who work on legal content. I’d like to see us look at Drupal.org’s dashboards as a model for some of what we could do.

Make it easy to contribute.

Perhaps most significant to Drupal’s success is the ways in which the core mentors support new contributors. These include everything from leading organized sprints and culling issue queues to help identify “new contributor” tasks to providing consistent office hours (via IRC) to help people get started. Much of these require human resources. There’s just no way around that. And that's something our content managers can talk about better than I can.

But there are things we can do from a technical side to help support ease of contribution. With Drupal, documentation can be edited just by clicking “edit” on the page and the code is easily accessible, information on Drupal.org provides guidance to users and all of the known problems are documented within issue queues that can be read, added to, or updated by anyone with a Drupal.org account.

Within the statewide website context, some of what ILAO is doing I think helps:

  • We’re opening up edit access. All legal aid users will be able to edit legal information on the website. Depending on the user’s permissions and the scope of the changes, some edits will be made live immediately while others will require internal review before being made live. I’d love to eventually open it up to pro bono users as well.
  • We’re asking for help. We’ll have a block on all of our article pages for legal aid users asking them to help edit the website. In a future version, we’ll take user profile data combined with our content ticketing system to display more targeted requests to legal aid users.
  • We’re providing an online knowledgebase for the content management system. In the current sprint, Dina and the content team are working out how to build up our style guide, which will become part of the knowledge base. Similar to Drupal’s documentation standards or coding standards, it will provide information to contributors on how edits to our content should look (headings should be title case or sentence case; don’t use click here, etc, etc). It is my hope that this knowledgebase will be an important, usable resource for anyone wanting to contribute to our website’s content.

Like I said, this post has been rattling around in my head for months and my apologies to Cathy if I didn’t get anything quite right. But I do think the Drupal community and its core mentoring program are an interesting model to look at when it comes to growing contributions within the statewide website context and it has certainly inspired some of what has been included in our overall content workflow strategy in the rebuild of our websites.


PS: If you use Drupal and want to learn more about getting involved in the Drupal community, visit the Getting Involved guide on Drupal.org. You don't have to be a PHP geek or Drupak expert to be able to contribute to the Drupal community. And one of my goals for 2016 is to actually hit the part in my job description and work goals to spend a little bit more of my work time giving back to the Drupal community--it comes back and benefits me and ILAO as well.