Knowledge is power. Organizations that make their top issues, activities, and research (i.e., data) easily accessible to constituents see substantial improvements in audience awareness and participation. Think tanks, associations, advocacy groups, and government agencies have the potential to bring data that was once hidden in multiple databases to the forefront of their websites. Using open source systems like WordPress or Drupal, these organizations can organize and share their important data in order to:
- increase engagement
- inspire people to get involved
- grow membership
- attract new audiences
- build reputation
- become the go-to knowledge source in their industry
- bring scattered and siloed data into easily accessible and shareable resources
ACLU of Ohio
ACLU of Ohio’s site, built by OmniStudio, is a good example of a website that serves a wide audience constantly seeking information. ACLU provides a wealth of resources that influence legislative and legal change within their state. As a membership-based nonprofit organization with strong grassroots organizing and lobbying activities—promoting civil liberties, litigation and education—their online communication efforts are vital to their success. ACLU’s work extends beyond the courtroom into a wide-range of areas: public education, media work, testimony, and advocacy.
“Given that our work covers more than twenty issues, it was really important that we present this information in such a way as to provide a robust resource for the visitor without overwhelming them. Meaning, to create a database without it looking like one!” noted Jeff Miller, ACLU of Ohio’s Technology Director.
The goal for their website is to give people the tools they need to dig deeply into legal and legislative issues, and provide several ways to take action for themselves and their community. ACLU’s website is a good model for other groups who want to achieve similar goals.
Goal 1: Make navigation easier to find issues, legal cases and legislation
The primary navigation of ACLU’s website helps visitors find issues, their legal docket, and legislation. These are the backbone of their database. Each of these areas contains a wealth of information and resources that enable the user to see the interrelationship between court cases, policy and legislation.
“Our website serves a number of constituencies,” Jeff said. “ACLU members, the media, legislators, students, attorneys, the public, and even our staff! We find that there is a lot of interest in our cases, in particular those that are of historic importance such as NAACP et. al. v. Husted, et. al. — a very important voting rights case where we filed over 150 documents that are all on our website – and Obergefell v. Hodges, the national marriage equality case in which we were co-counsel.”
The website’s secondary navigation takes people to more conventional information—home, about, calendar, contact, blog, and there is a prominent search tool in the header. All of the menus are duplicated in the footer of the site, making information easily accessible from anywhere. The primary navigation and search bar take center stage on mobile:
Goal 2: Bring Issues to the Forefront
The Issues page is a great way to get started with ACLU of Ohio’s resource library. It has simple, visual cues to quickly inform and guide users to key content.
Clicking on “Prisoner’s Rights”, for example, takes you to menu tabs that make it easy for users to compare two salient items: “What’s Happening in Ohio” and “What’s Happening Nationally.” The right column shows the integration of this issue with the library of other resources available on a topic. By highlighting relevant press releases, cases, legislation, publications, blog posts, and webcasts, this feature creates clear paths for users to explore and focus on specific issues.
Goal 3: Provide an Up-To-Date, Searchable Library of Legal Cases
The Legal Docket gets straight to the content. The Active, Closed, Historic buttons at the top give you the ability to sort data. If you select Active, for example, all cases currently in the courts will display. Drilling down into a particular case, such as Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, et al. v. Hodges, et al., or exploring a broad issue like Reproductive Freedom, makes research fast and intuitive.
Goal 4: Provide Legislative Information by Status and Issues
The Legislation page shows “enacted, failed, and pending” bills. This page has the same technical capabilities as the Legal Docket page, where users can dig down into broader issues (e.g., racial justice) or particular bills. Once you dive into a particular legal issue or case, you are presented with closely related information, resources, and ways to take action on that particular issue. This kind of information integration is a core component of the site’s structure.
Goal 5: Provide Data & Resources for People Who Want to Participate
The Resources page features important links to content as well as additional ways to take action (e.g., shop from the ACLU of Ohio Store, Request a Speaker, etc.). The Webcast page, which features thumbnails, titles, featured speakers, and legal issues (e.g., General Civil Liberties), offers a compellingly visual way for users to explore multimedia content while maintaining their connection with larger issues. The ability to filter (+) content by event type, issue, or year makes this information much more accessible. The video and audio RSS feed buttons on the page make it easier to store and retrieve webcasts for later use.
Goal 6: Clearly Show That You Want People to Get Involved and Take Action
The “Get Involved” section (sidebar widget) underpins ACLU of Ohio’s digital strategy, and therefore appears on every page of the site. By making these Calls-to-Action (CTAs) very noticeable on every page—including the one shown on the Resource page: “Need Legal Help?”—they reinforce the likelihood that users will get involved, take action, and learn more.
And by making social media sharing tools prominent throughout the database, visitors have direct ways to broadcast information about legal cases directly from the site. As Jeff Miller, pointed out, “sharing on social media has expanded considerably since moving to this new web environment!” This kind of expansion on social media boosts site traffic, also improving donations and membership retention. ACLU’s data rich site has “been very effective in serving strategic goals—leading to increased contributions, form submissions, and advocacy,” Jeff said.
Planning and Designing Sites that Inspire
Using the tools of open-sourced content management systems, like WordPress, is efficient, yet sophisticated, when working with complex data. Making multiple levels of information available in clear, powerful ways is an art that requires intensive strategic planning and professional design. This expertise, combined with WordPress tools, have helped ACLU of Ohio inspire more people to learn, get involved, and take action.
OmniStudio specializes in creating sites like these. We are happy to discuss how we could help your organization integrate data, research, and resources into a site that engages your community.
Another recent example of our work in this area is The Inter-American Dialogue’s Global Trends and Future Scenarios Database of Reports, which is a compendium of research and data on Latin America’s long-term scenarios and global trends studies. The goal of this site is to assist governments in designing better public policy.