Using Drupal to make great (or good) planning websites

A website is almost a necessity given any sufficiently large planning process like a comprehensive plan update, small area plan or other meeting-heavy process in which members of the public and other stakeholders play a significant role.  In a lot of planning projects I’ve been involved in for cities, “website” means a little corner of the city’s website that ends up serving as a document dumping ground.  A long list of links, possibly organized around meeting dates.  Larger, more well-funded projects sometimes shell out for consultants to produce a nice, user-friendly website, but small projects often times don’t include the time or budget.  With a small amount of technical expertise and a few hours, Drupal can help bridge the gap for these smaller projects and create a useful, interactive experience for project participants.  Read more after the break.Drupal is a Content Management System, or a program that works on the back-end of websites to organize content and facilitate publishing of new material.  Once it’s set up, which requires a basic knowledge of web hosting and publishing, it can be run for the most part without users having to know any html (the code langauge of the internet).

The standard Drupal set up allows users to create new posts, upload content (such as pictures or pdf files) and allows the administrator to assign roles to different user groups.  Its highly configurable, but even the default setting are intuitive to navigate and relatively easy to manage even for those with little knowledge of building a website.  There are thousands of “modules”, add-ons that people in the Drupal community have written that can plug in to your website.  These give you the power to have user polls, interactive quizzes, set up forums where users can talk to each other and website administrators, upload content, view calendars, subscribe to an email newsletter and thousands of other things.

We have a project beginning soon for the City of Moorhead for which we’ve set up a website using Drupal.  So far I’m only using the most basic functionality, but I think it will prove valuable especially given the geographic separation between us and the client.  Some better examples of what is really possible with Drupal are here and here (purely coincidence that they are both from Canada).

In the world of planning (maybe especially consulting), distribution and control of information, as well as strong communication is really critical to a successful project.  Drupal is a tool that I think can help planners be more successful at all of these areas.  Of course, the Moorhead project has not yet begun, so I’ll try to give you some updates as the work progresses.

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