Ottawa Drupal in Government session notes

At Gov 2 expo I chatted with some Drupal people and last night I attended the Drupal and Government session at the Ottawa Public Library. Here is a slightly cleaned up version of those notes. Please feel free to correct any errors or omissions.

Mike Gifford hosted with speakers from government and private sector. I learned that the first use of Social Media in a political campaign is generally attributed to Howard Dean who used in an unsuccessful bid four years before Obama. Both used Drupal.

Many (most) entertainment and sports sites use Drupal. Sony and other major sites in ent industry,, Warner Brothers uses the multisite capability of Drupal as a shared platform for many artist sites built on common module library.

The Ottawa Library uses Drupal and showcased the site at the session. The department of Agriculture used it to prototype their intranet prior to implementation on Interwoven, apparently it is not uncommon for large organizations to use Drupal to compliment their older enterprise content management systems. The Department of Defense is using Drupal to build a comprehensive social intranet that incorporates hundreds of modules as well as a MediaWiki install. Lots of good lessons there for GCPEDIA perhaps.

Why Drupal?

  • because of social networking aspects, inter relationship stuff,
  • modular architecture 6000+ modules available.
  • A accepted solution , now in the Whitehouse,  in parallel with open data adn gov 2.0 movement, definitely seems to have momentum as a platform in the US gov.
  • A well developed community; in the crowd there were a number of Drupal development shops including; open concept, liquid CMS, evolving web, openplus dot ca, user advocate group, u7 solutions. Those are the names I jotted down as people called out their companies, I am pretty sure some of them are not quite right.

Deven Crawler, Ottawa Library talked about the third law of a library guru whose name i did not catch but I loved the law: ” save the time of the reader” .

Michael Keara, User Advocate Group, was a user systems architect who worked on the Ottawa Library site, he talked about a user design paradigm where his objective is to provide the most value to the user for the least interaction cost. He also had an interesting road map that went something like this:
roadmap: users – personas – roles – tasks – info archtecture – database integration

  • users are real people
  • personas are the generalized symbols
  • roles are the hats to wear, one user may have many roles
  • tasks are what each role needs to do tasks, design challenge is to present the right tools at the right time
  • information architecture is the layout and logic of the information flow
  • database is about getting the right content out of the database to the user in the right place at the right time

One issue with Drupal that came up is that the content is embeded in the code, making it sometimes difficult to deal with. Apparently there modules to deal with this kind of thing though, so it does not appear to be a show stopper.

Patrick Lajeunese from Agriculture talked about the experience of their communications group using Drupal to create a high fidelity prototype of a revised intranet. Interestingly it sounded like within Agriculutre it was pretty easy to get a virtual machine with a LAMP stack.

Drupal can handle bilingual sites, but it requires list of modules Patrick said he would be willing to share. I loved it when he said that they started the project by looking for templates shared on GCPEDIA.  HTML, CSS and some php were the core skills they needed for working with Drupal.

Jason Peltzer talked about a secure closed intranet using Drupal for a fairly comprehensive social intranet including some integration with, MediaWiki, RDIMS, and Remedy. The Remedy ticketing system is being used to generate translation requests that include a link to the original content inside Drupal. Sounds like a much more efficient system than the one I have experienced.

Generallyspeaking they practice a no code philosophy, using more than 200 modules, Documents are stored in rdims. uses drf’s as the only way to upload doc. The GC desperately needs something like this to keep GCPEDIA from becoming a shared drive. Jason talked about thier content model has having three main groups

Primary content types Secondary content types User generated content types
photo etc

He talked about a one day training program they have for content publishers that was half IM training and half learning how to use the system. I like the emphasis on the Information Management part.  Another useful feature he talked about was the email notification of expired content with automatic removal of old content.

Why social networking?
Purpose is to create and strengthen connections bases on shared career and hobby interests.   CIO buys into this. User content type includes skills and hobbies, Drupal uses taxonomy to generate communities on the fly.

Jason also had an interesting road map that went like this:
quality – personalization – social networking  – collaboration, the basic idea being that when quality of content improves we want to personalize it, once we personalize it we want to share it, and once we are sharing content we start to collaborate.

David Pewer and (Kent intern Law student at McGill) from the Technology Law Clinic at Ottawa U talked about the important topic of returning development efforts to the open source community. The legal haze in this area as it relates to crown copyright makes it seem risky for Government departments to contribute to open source communities, the procurement group in PWGSC is responsible for managing licenses for the Government but dont have a lot of experience with open source.  the Technology Law Clinic have prepared an opinion (available on GCPEDIA I think) and are writing a white paper regarding GC contributions to open source. They presented their analysis of the situation, this is my incomplete summary:

  • Copyright act does not put restrictions on how crown copyright material is licensed.
  • Communications policy says ok if license is non exclusive, IP remains with crown and royalty is levied. this is subject to interpretation but changes to communications policy is desired for clarity.
  • The hereditary feature of the GPL does not intact restrict use.
  • Risk of patent infringement remains very small.

My take is that there not much stopping sharing for non commercial use but its a bit problematic for commercial use because communications policy seems to inadvertently get in the way.

Big props to the folks at Government of Canada, CIOB who have released a large number of Accessible Web Templates under crown copyright, using a MIT open license. This  might be a good example for others in the GC to follow. Also check out their twitter channel @GCWebStandards . The hope is that an international community will form around developing accessible modern web templates for widespread use.

Like I said, lots of good stuff. #drupalgov


About Thom Kearney

Change agent, teacher, arts, science, open government, father, mentor, storyteller, husband, dog owner,collaborator, not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in Conference, Gov 2.0, Sustainability, Web 2.0. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Ottawa Drupal in Government session notes

  1. Doug says:

    Thanks for the write-up Thom! Hopefully momentum on Drupal can build within Government, because the public sector can share their best practices freely (not possible with the expensive proprietary CMS’ dominating out there).


  2. Wendy says:

    Fantastic insights for those of us who could not attend this informative session. Props to AAFC for illustrating how to use a combination of Drupal and legacy CMS to deliver results.


  3. From the introduction section of the wikipedia entry on the Five Laws of Library Science: “The Five laws of library science was a theory proposed by S. R. Ranganathan [from India]. The proposal detailed the principles of operating a library system. Many librarians worldwide accept them as the foundations of their philosophy.[1]”

    To read and learn the other 4 laws visit


  4. Mike Gifford says:

    Thanks for this great summary Thom. I’ve posted some more results up on my latest blog post with links to presentations & video from the afternoon.


  5. Colin says:

    The Government of Canada has developed a CLF 2.0 theme for Drupal

    The latest version of the theme can be downloaded from :


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