Mar 16 2020
Mar 16

Category 1: Web development

Government organizations want to modernize and build web applications that make it easier for constituents to access services and information. Vendors in this category might work on improving the functionality of search.mass.gov, creating benefits calculators using React, adding new React components to the Commonwealth’s design system, making changes to existing static sites, or building interactive data stories.

Category 2: Drupal

Mass.gov, the official website of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is a Drupal 8 site that links hundreds of thousands of weekly visitors to key information, services, and other transactional applications. You’ll develop modules to enhance and stabilize the site; build out major new features; and iterate on content types so that content authors can more easily create innovative, constituent-centered services.

Category 3: Data architecture and engineering

State organizations need access to large amounts of data that’s been prepared and cleaned for decision-makers and analysts. You’ll take in data from web APIs and government organizations, move and transform it to meet agency requirements using technology such as Airflow and SQL, and store and manage it in PostgreSQL databases. Your work will be integral in helping agencies access and use data in their decision making.

Category 4: Data analytics

Increasingly, Commonwealth agencies are using data to inform their decisions and processes. You’ll analyze data with languages such as Python and R, visualize it for stakeholders in business intelligence tools like Tableau, and present your findings in reports for both technical and non-technical audiences. You’ll also contribute to the state’s use of web analytics to improve online applications and develop new performance metrics.

Category 5: Design, research, and content strategy

Government services can be complex, but we have a vision for making access to those services as easy as possible. Bidders for this category may work with partner agencies to envision improvements to digital services using journey mapping, user research, and design prototyping; reshape complex information architecture; help transform technical language into clear-public facing content, and translate constituent feedback into new and improved website and service designs.

Category 6: Operations

You’ll monitor the system health for our existing digital tools to maintain uptime and minimize time-to-recovery. Your DevOps work will also create automated tests and alerts so that technical interventions can happen before issues disrupt constituents and agencies. You’ll also provide expert site reliability engineering advice for keeping sites maintainable and building new infrastructure. Examples of applications you’ll work on include Mass.gov, search.mass.gov, our analytics dashboarding platform, and our logging tool.

Apr 19 2019
Apr 19

What we learned from our fellow Drupalists

Go to the profile of Lisa Mirabile

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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May 08 2018
May 08
May 8th, 2018

Over the past few months, Four Kitchens has worked together with the Public Radio International (PRI) team to build a robust API in PRI’s Drupal 7 site, and a modern, fresh frontend that consumes that API. This project’s goal was to launch a new homepage in the new frontend. PRI intends to re-build their entire frontend in this new structure and Four Kitchens has laid the groundwork for this endeavor. The site went live successfully, with a noticeable improvement in load time and performance. Overall load time performance increased by 40% with first-byte time down to less than 0.5 seconds. The results of the PRI team’s efforts can be viewed at PRI.org.

PRI is a global non-profit media company focused on the intersection of journalism and engagement to effect positive change in people’s lives. PRI’s mission is to serve audiences as a distinctive content source for information, insights and cultural experiences essential to living in our diverse, interconnected world.

Overall load time performance increased by 40% with first-byte time down to less than 0.5 seconds.

Four Kitchens and PRI approached this project with two technical goals. The first was to design and build a full-featured REST API in PRI’s existing Drupal 7 application. We used RESTFul, a Drupal module for building APIs, to create a JSON-API compliant API.

Our second technical goal was to create a robust frontend backed by the new API. To achieve that goal, we used React to create component-based user interfaces and styled them with using the CSS Modules pattern. This work was done in a library of components in which we used Storybook to demonstrate and test the components. We then pulled these components into a Next-based application, which communicates with the API, parses incoming data, and uses that data to populate component properties and generate full pages. Both the component library and the Next-based application used Jest and Enzyme heavily to create thorough, robust tests.

A round of well-deserved kudos to the PRI team: Technical Project Manager, Suzie Nieman managed this project from start to finish, facilitating estimations that led the team to success. Senior JavaScript Engineer, Patrick Coffey, provided keen technical leadership as well as deep architectural knowledge to all facets of the project, keeping the team unblocked and motivated. Engineer, James Todd brought his Drupal and JavaScript expertise to the table, architecting and building major portions of PRI’s new API. Senior Frontend Engineer, Evan Willhite, brought his wealth of frontend knowledge to build a robust collection of elegant components in React and JavaScript. Architect, David Diers created mechanisms that will be responsible for managing PRI’s API documentation that can be used in future projects.

Special thanks to Patrick Coffey and Suzie Nieman for their contributions to this launch announcement. 

Four Kitchens

The place to read all about Four Kitchens news, announcements, sports, and weather.

Mar 17 2016
Mar 17

f1_chrr_hero
This week, we were proud to once again help launch County Health Rankings, a project we have been fortunate to support over seven annual releases.

A collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, the Rankings compare counties within each state on more than 30 factors that impact health, including such social determinants as education, jobs, housing, exercise, commuting times, and more.

In honor of the seventh release, and in honor of St. Patrick’s Day – a day upon which Americans are prone to misfortune due to less-than-healthy behaviors – we provide seven lucky reasons we love this year’s Rankings:

1. You Can Compare Counties Across State Lines

Rankings fans have long desired to compare counties in different states. While it would never make sense to compare state-by-state ranks, you can now create head-to-head comparisons on specific measures between any county of your choosing. For example, here we’ve compared several counties named “Orange” including these counties in Florida and California that are home to Disney World and Disneyland. (Might this help answer the age-old question: Are the happiest counties on Earth also the healthiest?)

image04

2. Easy-to-Use Additional Measures

The Rankings provide county-level information on a variety of interesting additional measures, such as residential segregation and health care costs, that do not factor into ranking calculations yet are helpful to gaining a better portrait of a county’s health. These measures can now be directly accessed within any county snapshot. Just browse to your favorite county (here’s mine) and click the plus (+) signs to reveal additional measures.

image01

3. Improved Details About Measures that Affect Health

This year, we’ve created new pages for each ranked and additional measure to help audiences understand more about how factors such as adult obesity, drug overdose deaths, and insufficient sleep affect our health. Previously, these were only described in the context of a given state when viewing data in the application. In practical terms, this means you can now quickly find these measures via the site’s main search function. We also revamped the focus area pages that each measure is related to. For example, here is the overview of tobacco use, which includes a clear description, measurement strategy, references, and a list of relevant policies and programs that can lead to improvements.  

image06

4. Key Findings Report

A beautiful, new Key Findings report takes a broader, national perspective on the Rankings. It explains that rural counties have had the highest rates of premature death rates, lagging behind more urbanized counties.

The Drupal crowd might be interested in knowing that this was built using the Paragraphs module, which allowed our site editors a fair bit of flexibility in creating longform content on the fly, since their content wasn’t approved/ finalized until very close to our release date. They did this by adding any number of pre-built components (Paragraph types) like downloadable images, text fields, section headers, and callout boxes to the report, then rearranging as needed via drag and drop. And because we created this as its own content type, it’s also now very easy for editors to go back and create reports from the PDFs of key findings from previous years.

image05

5. Health Gaps Reports

Revealing state-by-state Health Gaps reports explore the factors that cause different health outcomes across each state, and what can be done to address them.

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6. Areas of Strength:

When viewing any one of the over 3,000 county snapshots – say, Wayne County, MI, for example – you can now highlight specific areas in which a county is performing well by clicking the checkboxes in the upper right. This compliments the “Areas to Explore” toggle we introduced a few years ago.

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7. Boozing Discouraged

Before you imbibe on St. Patrick’s Day, you should check out your county’s performance on Alcohol-impaired Driving Deaths and Excessive Drinking.

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Seriously, nearly 90,000 deaths are attributed annually to excessive drinking. So wherever you live, take care this St. Patrick’s Day!

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Luck-Changing Web Dev Limericks

May 15 2015
May 15

Last Friday, we attended the Digital Innovation Hack-a-Thon hosted by the GSA… and we won. The federal tech website FCW even wrote an article about it.

Our team, made up of designers and developers from Forum One, along with Booz Allen Hamilton, Avar Consulting, and IFC International, worked on a solution for IAE’s Vendor Dashboard for Contracting Officers. We were tasked with creating a vendor dashboard for displaying GSA data that would enable procurement officers to quickly and easily search and identify potential vendors that have small-business or minority-owned status, search by other special categories, and view vendors’ history.

How did we tackle the problem?

Our team initially split into smaller working groups. The first group performed a quick discovery session; talking with the primary stakeholder and even reaching out to some of the Contracting Officers we work with regularly. They identified pain points and looked at other systems which we ended up integrating into our solution. As this group defined requirements, the second group created wireframes. We even took some time to perform quick usability testing with our stakeholders, and iterate on our initial concept until it was time to present.

The other group dove into development. We carefully evaluated the data available from the API to understand the overlap and develop a data architecture. Using that data map, we decided to create a listing of contracts and ways to display an individual contract. We then expanded it to include alternative ways of comparing and segmenting contracts using other supporting data. Drupal did very well pulling in the data and allowed us to leverage its data listings and displays tools. Most developers see Drupal as a powerful albeit time intensive building tool, but it worked very well in this time critical environment.

Our two groups rejoined frequently to keep everyone on the same page and make sure our solutions was viable.

How much could we possibly accomplish in 6 hours?

More than you might think. Our solutions presented the content in an organized, digestible way that allowed contracting officers to search and sort through information quickly and easily within one system. We created wireframes to illustrate our solution for the judges and stakeholders. We also stood up a Drupal site to house the data and explained the technical architecture behind our solution. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a front-end developer participating in the hack-a-thon, so we weren’t able to create a user interface, but our wireframes describe what the UI should eventually look like.

Some of us even took a quick break to catch a glimpse the Arsenal of Democracy World War II Victory Capitol Flyover from the roof. It was also broadcasted on the projectors in the conference room.

Arsenal of Democracy Flyover of the National Mall

What did we learn?

It’s interesting to see how others break down complex problems and iterate on solutions especially if that solution includes additional requirements. Our solution was more complex than some of the other more polished data visualizations, but we won the challenge in part because of the strategy behind our solution.

We’re excited to see what GSA develops as a MVP, and we’ll be keeping our ears open for the next opportunity to attend a hack-a-thon with GSA.

Finally, a big shout out to our teammates!

  • Mary C. J. Schwarz, Vice President at ICF International
  • Gita Pabla, Senior Digital Designer at Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Eugene Raether, IT Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Robert Barrett, Technical Architect, Avar Consulting

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DrupalCon LA Round-Up: Wrapping Up and Looking Ahead

Mar 23 2012
Mar 23
Custom apachesolr results

Custom apachesolr results

We’ve been getting some questions about how we customize our apachesolr results by content type.  The answer:  very simply.  We use views php.  Views php allows us several new field type in views including a place to put custom PHP. It also has the advantage of allowing you to pull in variables already loaded into your view.  Thus while it is possible to write queries to the database in the php area, it is not necessary.  Moreover if you have need to tables not typically available in views you may use the data module to gain access.

For the video inclined here is a link to our 2 minutes on views php http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAehdUVrVDs

While there are several fields available in the Views PHP field I tend to use the output field area.  To hide the actual complete results

Using available variables in views php

Using available variables in views php

this makes it so that you can add a few lines of logic and have the results better reflect the information.  For our librarians we output their profile picture linked to their email address, for our web results we provide link descriptions etc.

Excluding results from display allows the results to be available to views php without cluttering the patrons view

Excluding results from display allows the results to be available to views php without cluttering the patrons view

Just remember to exclude your fields from display so that the user isn’t presented with  hundreds of fields and you’re good to go.

Jul 24 2010
Jul 24
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If you're like most people who build using Drupal you want to build your site around nodes, that have titles, descriptions, tags, comments, etc. It's no surprise since those types of content oriented sites are the ones that make the world of the web go round. But what about another type of site that focuses not on nodes but on data contained in the Drupal database? Can you do it? Yes. Should you do it? Only if that sort of thing excites you or perhaps if a client requests it.

I'll give you a little background on where I'm coming from and what made me decide to play around with Drupal as a way to expose data sets. About a decade ago I was part of a group of people who built a first of its kind application to send and receive data from wholesale power markets in North America. The application was built on three tiers: a client, an application server, and a database server. The client and application server were written in Java and the database relied on Oracle technology. It was about as far away from open source as you could get. The product was successful though and we did hundreds of installs all across North America. What the product basically did for its owners was suck in data from a central server then expose that data to the user via tables and charts visible from the user interface. At some point last year I started wondering if I could do something similar with Drupal. So I started investigating, tried out different modules and realized that I could do even more with a Drupal install than we did with that product.

There are four tasks that need to be accomplished if you want to use Drupal as an effective data platform.

  1. Capture data to the Drupal database tables
  2. Setting the data types (text, numeric, etc.)
  3. Expose the data to the user using tables and charts
  4. Offer simplified download format options

 Capturing Data

I have been capturing data using the Table Wizard module. Table Wizard allows you to create a database table by uploading a delimited (like tab or comma separated) file. This works pretty well. I recently uploaded a file with over 300,000 records and it was in the database within a few minutes. After you upload your file you click on the table name to "analyze" the table. Table Wizard will let you know what columns you have in the table, the data types and identify the primary key. When you first upload your data you will want to go switch over to your database to change data types of the appropriate ones and identify a primary key. Once you have done that you can come back and re-analyze the table. 

Setting the Data Types

This is probably the step that will be the least welcome to those who are not familiar with databases. If you want to do extensive work with data in Drupal then you will want to become familiar enough with phpMyAdmin and MySQL data types to be able to navigate to your database and apply the appropriate settings for each type of data. You should also indicate which field contains the primary key for the table. The primary key is a unique value that identifies each record in a table. If you have a dataset that does not have a column with unique values then consider adding a column unique numeric code in each row. You can name the column something like record_id and then add values like 100001, 100002, 100003 and so on.

Expose the Data Using Tables and Charts

If you have been a good boy or girl and added a single field primary key then the Table Wizard module will let you check a box that is labeled, "Provide default view." This option automatically creates a view that you can expand upon as you see fit. Auto created table wizard views will have the tag "tw" added to them. You can also create a view by navigating to /build/views/add and looking for the radio button in the 'View Type' section that starts with Database table. At this point you need to a thing or two about the Views module to go further. There's not enough space to cover that here so I'm going to skip over the details and point you to the key modules and settings.

The standard views module will let you create a table from your data. You just have to choose a Page display and choose the Table style. You can then choose your fields which will appear as columns within the table. Give the page a Path and perhaps add an Exposed Filter or two to allow users to narrow down the data they are looking at. If you want to get a little fancy you can choose use Views Calc to create tables that include calculations like min, max or average on a set of numeric data.

Charts are a little more tricky but it can be done with the assistance of Charts and Graphs and Views Charts. Charts and Graphs allows you to integrate a number of different free charting solutions (including Google Charts) into your site. View Charts makes those features available as a Style (called "Charts") within the Views interface. The chart gets exposed on a page based on the Path that you define. You can also create a chart within the Block display type. There are other charting modules that exist for Drupal. All of them have some drawbacks but so far the Charts and Graphs/Views Charts combo has worked the best for me.

Offering A Download Option

The ability to download data probably won't be a must have feature for every site. After all someone could probably just copy the table and paste it into their favorite spreadsheet program. It's a nice feature to offer though and you can do it pretty easily with the help of the Views Bonus Pack module. With Views Bonus Pack installed you get the option to add a Feed display within the Views interface. With the Feed display selected you then get the option of setting a Style that includes the option for CSV and other popular formats like TXT, DOC, XLS and XML. You can then attach that display to the Table display and there will be an image that appears at the bottom of the table page that will generate a file download when clicked. Be sure to add the same filters to the CSV display that you have added to the Table display so the downloaded file reflects what the user is seeing with any filters selected. 

The usual caveats apply to the ideas and tips that I've offered here. At any time a better module could come along or an existing module could change and alter the process a bit. So tread lightly and do some exploration before you commit to building a data driven site using Drupal. In fact, even though there was a very recent release of Table Wizard the development is being deprecated in favor of the Data module. I'll continue to upload using Table Wizard for now since I think it works well but also plan on giving the Data module a shot in the near future. 

As always I'd love to hear your thoughts and tips on modules and workflows in the comments. If you have built or know of a good data access website built using Drupal feel free to share those links as well.

Video Links

YouTube Version

Flash Version

Quicktime Version

About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web